Saturday, September 5, 2009

Get back to work: The truth about Labor Day

On Monday, millions of Americans will celebrate Labor Day in a time-honored way - by deliberately avoiding labor. They’ll attend barbecues and beach parties; they might even kick back in their hammocks and lawn chairs with a feeling of entitlement, secure in their understanding that the first Monday in September is just a hard-earned reward for the American worker.

They’re wrong about Labor Day. And not only are they wrong, but by the lights of Labor Day’s founders, their whole attitude toward the day makes them less than good Americans.

In 1884, when President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a national holiday on the first Monday in September, he and its sponsors intended it not as a celebration of leisure but as a promotion of the great American work ethic. Work, they believed, was the highest calling in life, and Labor Day was a reminder to get back to it. It was placed at the end of summer to declare an end to the season of indolence, and also to distance it from May Day, the spring event that had become a symbol of the radical labor movement.

The day most of us now spend in happy leisure was created to urge Americans to work more, not less. The holiday’s inventors would have been dismayed to see that Americans today would use it only to float in a pool, play putt-putt golf, or - even worse - to fantasize about a life in which they do nothing but play.

The truth about Labor Day - The Boston Globe

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