Usually, when someone wishes you a “Happy Labor Day!” images of parades clad in Red, White, and Blue, mass barbeques, and vacation time come to mind. Unfortunately though, a majority of people will think about the sales they are going to find on Labor Day Weekend because every local or national business has undoubtedly advertised their Labor Day Sales.
They wait to buy their furniture that weekend, or they wait to go buy everything for school. There isn’t anything wrong with putting money into the economy or waiting to buy things when they are cheaper. But it is in direct contrast of what the weekend is supposed to be about.
Like so many public or federal holidays, because they become associated with sales and deals in stores, the actual meaning of the day is lost. What is so ironic (and not a funny irony, but a sad and depressing one) about this one, however, is this is a holiday to give workers a break.
Instead, big-name companies, and some small “mom and pop” stores, have found a way to do the opposite of giving their workers a rest. They have made it imperative that workers work even more. This is all to satisfy the thirst for deals and savings that they [company executives] have created in the consumers through their advertising.
Before you write me off as a total socialist, or anarchist even, let’s take a look at the meaning and history of Labor Day in the USA. How did it become so easy to make these sales an innocent need to do more business? Why is this actually a bigger problem than most people even think about? Read on and then let me know what you think in the comments.
What is Labor Day?
Labor Day began in the late 19th century as trade unions and labor movements were picking up steam and becoming popular. The Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor promoted the first Monday of September as the date for the holiday. Their goal was to honor the American Labor Movement and to celebrate the power of collective action by laborers.
In 1886, the American Federation of Labor passed a resolution calling for the adoption of the eight-hour work week, effective May 1, 1886. This is one of the most well-known facts on labor unions in the United States. The fight for fair work hours. Another thing the Unions accomplished? No more child labor.
In the following year, Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day an official public holiday. Then in 1894, it President Cleveland signed a law designating the first Monday of every September as an official federal holiday. The holiday, however, is still only mandatory for federal workers. Many labor movements following the official designation began encouraging non-federal workers to strike to ensure they would have that day off.
Labor Day is also recognized as the “unofficial last day of summer.” School starts back up, images of fall weather and Pumpkin Spice Lattes begin to clutter our Instagram feeds, and you apparently can’t wear white or seersucker until next year.
You might be asking, but isn’t there a labor-centered holiday in May as well? And isn’t that the one where businesses usually cover their windows in wood to ensure that their stores aren’t broken in to and destroyed? That’s a different “holiday” and let me explain.
It’s true. May has a radical and violent connotation, while September is remembered as the parade-then-picnic-type of holiday. May Day, or May 1st, emerged in 1886 (the same time as the September holiday) as an alternative. May 1st was already a time of celebration in European culture, and labor movements wanted to use this as an additional protest against unfair worker laws and practices. Many Labor scholars have said that this day is always radicalized because of the proximity to the May 4th Haymarket Affair in Chicago on May 4th 1886.
U.S. President Glover Cleveland pushed for the September date, rather than using May 1st as the official date because he was afraid that the designation of May 1st would tend to become a commemoration would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements. President Cleveland did not like labor unions, even though he was the one that signed the 1894 law that made the first Monday of September an official federal holiday.
There is still a debate around the necessity of unions, and whether they are good or bad. Check out this Huffington Post article that shows both sides of the argument.
But in my view, there is still a huge need for unions. This seemingly-innocent idea of having a sale on Labor Day is just one of the reasons why. This is a holiday for not working. It is a time to be doing the things that you as a human actually want to be doing, not slaving away worrying about making your performance numbers or whether your boss is happy with your quotas.
What does that mean for small businesses?
In the 21st century, small businesses are on the rise. In fact, 50% of all U.S. businesses are home-based. Entrepreneurs are everywhere. They are working towards that dream life for themselves outside of the eight-hour day of corporate life. We at A Simple Cookie are on that same path. We want to create work that we love, and not just work for work’s sake, as Timothy Farris writes about. In fact, we might be working for more than eight hours every day to make our dreams come true.
But there is a difference.
We are not forcing ourselves with busy work that does not have any meaning at the end of the day. Maybe we spend a few too many hours a week trying to figure out how to use Instagram properly. But we are making ourselves truly productive to create something that will have a lasting impact.
Maybe our impact will be just on a few people, or maybe our dream of creating a café that is centered around face-to-face communication will latch on to a greater public. Who knows?
What we do know, however, is that this is something that we are passionate about, and we are doing for ourselves, not for a boss or executive who is trying to push an inorganic service or product on the public just because they know how to market or advertise.
If we grow beyond the two of us, we want to make sure that our employees have that ability to grow as well. We want to create a business where creativity is the focus, and not just busywork to make the profit by the end of the year.
There isn’t a union for small businesses. But that is because there is a difference between work to get money and work to get a dream. When you are working towards your dream, you know your body’s limits and you know what is too much.
We will be celebrating Labor Day this Monday, but we will not be having a sale.
So what do you think? What is your idea of Labor Day? Do you think the way we celebrate it should change? Let us know in the comments below. Let’s start the conversation on what Labor Day means for small businesses.