Of all our national holidays, Labor Day is unique in this sense: While rest, relaxation, travel and social gatherings sometimes distract from the intent of other holidays, those activities are in perfect harmony with Labor Day.
Established by an act of Congress in 1894, Labor Day is a creation of America’s labor movement, dedicated to the social and economic achievements of our nation’s working people. What better way to express the importance of workers than a long holiday weekend filled with fun activities? It is rightly considered a well-deserved respite from our toils.
Over the past 126 years, Labor Day weekend has arrived at critical junctures in our history, sometimes altering the celebrations.
In 1918, for example, many Labor Day events were canceled as the nation focused its attention on the carnage of World War I. Although the end of the “Great War” was just a couple of months away, the end of the bloodshed was not in view in September.
On Sept. 2, 1918, the most talked-about aspect of the holiday was leaflets dropped by airplanes in major cities with a simple message: “American boys in France are calling to you. A voice is coming over the waters saying, ‘Give us the toil of your hand.'”
That message has been a consistent theme in times of war. As the first truly industrialized nation, America’s working people have been the backbone of our military efforts.
In World War II, “the arsenal of America” sustained Britain and Russia before America’s entry into the war and overwhelmed the Axis powers with its enormous military production once Americans joined the fight.
Those wars were won with great sacrifice of lives, but the contributions of America’s workers played an integral role in victory.
If ever there was a Labor Day weekend that emphasized that point, it came in 1945, a Labor Day celebration like no other before or since.
On Sunday of the holiday weekend, Japan surrendered to U.S. forces in Japan, marking the official end of World War II, touching off celebrations in cities and towns throughout the country.
Now, as we approach Labor Day 2020, the celebration will more likely resemble 1918 than 1945, and for understandable reasons.
As it was with the wars that held our attention in 1918 and 1945, there is a looming presence that attends this weekend.
To date, more than 187,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and, as it was in 1918, there is no obvious end in sight.
In the interest of public health, we are asked to alter our normal holiday activities by avoiding large gatherings, maintaining social distancing and limiting contact with people who do not share our households.
As has been the case in times of previous crises, we are asked to make sacrifices to meet these challenges.
We wish all of our working people a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.
In these unusual circumstances, we place special emphasis on “safe.”