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The origins of Labor Day, which takes place the first Monday of September in North America, are somewhat uncertain. The holiday originated in Canada, born out of the worker’s rights movement there in the 1870s. By the 1880s, it had spread across the border, and the first organized Labor Day celebration in the U.S. was held in New York City in 1882.
Throughout the 1880s the honoring of Labor Day gradually made its way throughout the U.S., until it became a federal holiday during the administration of President Grover Cleveland in 1894. Rather than being a day of rest for the worker, however, Labor Day was initially a day of activism. Early celebrations relied on parades and festivals centered around union organizations and their workers. Homage was paid to the rights of these workers and their incredible importance in the growing industrial economy of the country.
What is certain is that since then, the world of work has changed dramatically. The American worker is migrating from the factory to service and knowledge work. Union membership is falling. More and more of us work for small businesses, or even ourselves, instead of large corporations.
As the worker evolved, so did Labor Day. It became a day of rest for office workers. Or at least it was until technology took over. Increasingly, as we’ve discussed often here at WWD, technology makes it difficult for workers to get away from their jobs — even on the supposed holiday meant to honor workers. Our BlackBerrys, laptops and other devices mean our work follows us everywhere we go, 24/7. This is doubly true for web workers. And for self-employed web workers, there is another challenge: taking time off means we aren’t making money.
So how do we web workers celebrate such a holiday when it’s increasingly difficult for us to take a holiday from our work? Maybe we need to get back to Labor Day’s original advocacy-focused roots.
Few web workers are members of unions, or of trade groups that advocate for our interests on a larger stage. That’s because, especially for solo workers, it can be easy to feel like there’s no point in speaking up on issues that relate to us, to just be one voice amidst a chorus of organized groups.
But if we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?
So this Labor Day, even if we web workers aren’t pausing in our work to honor ourselves, maybe we should all add self-advocacy to our task lists. We need to be reminded of how important it is to stand up for our own interests, just like our ancestors did in the 19th century.
What are you doing for Labor Day? Are you working or honoring the holiday?