For most Americans, Labor Day means a three-day weekend and the end of summer. It’s a time of barbecues, picnics and back-to-school sales. But it wasn’t always that way. The holiday, which falls on the first Monday of September, has its roots in the labor movement of the late 19th century.
Back in the 1880s, most American workers toiled long hours for low wages, often in dangerous environments. Labor unions began organizing strikes for better working conditions, many of which ended in violence. In the Haymarket Riot of May 1886, Chicago police killed several workers who were striking for an eight-hour workday—an event that inspired socialist groups to establish International Workers’ Day, or May Day. And in May 1894, President Cleveland sent Army troops to break up the Pullman Strike, resulting in the death of 30 railroad workers.
Fearful that the situation was getting out of control, Cleveland decided to repair ties with workers by creating a national holiday in their honor. Just six days after the strike ended, Congress declared the first Monday of September as Labor Day. Why that particular day? The Central Labor Union in New York City had established that date as a “working men’s holiday” in 1884, and within a decade it was a public holiday in 24 states. And since May Day had socialist connections, the first Monday of September was the obvious choice for a national Labor Day holiday.
Early Labor Day celebrations featured political rallies, speeches and parades, but the holiday began to change with the decline of unions in the late 20th century. There are still parades on Labor Day, but for most it’s just a time to get together with family and friends and say goodbye to summer.
movement (n.) （思想、社會等）運動
strike (n./v.) 罷工
rally (n.) （政治）集會，大會
decline (n./v.) 下跌，衰退