The First Labor Day Was 135 Years Ago—Here’s How Far We’ve Come

This past Monday, the working masses turned their alarm clocks off, fired up their grills (or their Netflixes), and gave a toast to having a three day weekend in observance of Labor Day.

Though this year’s Labor Day fell on September 4th, Tuesday September 5th marked the 135th anniversary of the very first official Labor Day. Here’s the quick hitting history lesson as to the origins of this beloved holiday: The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City in 1882, courtesy of the Central Labor Union, a workers’ rights group. By 1885 the day of observance was nationwide. The original Labor Day was brought about to serve the same purpose it does today—a holiday for workers—but it was celebrated with parades and festivals, rather than today’s traditional celebration of sleeping in and lounging by the pool.

One of the most interesting aspects of looking back at the first Labor Day is seeing how far we’ve come since that first Labor Day back in 1883. Here are the three most notable improvements for laborers over the last 135 years:

More employment laws and regulation.

Say what you will about government intervention in the workforce, but from an objective standpoint, laws and regulations have generally gone to help laborers over the last 135 years. Laws mandating what age you can enter the workforce ensure safety; minimum wage regulations make sure laborers are getting paid somewhat reasonably; government guidelines dictate how many hours can be worked before employees are required to take a break.

It hasn’t all been perfect, but working conditions as a whole have vastly improved.

A shift in balance of power between employers and employees.

With more opportunities available for employees, employers do not have all the keys to all the locks like they might have in the 1800s. Desperation for work—especially in today’s job market—is nowhere near as high as it used to be. Job functions are more diverse and they require more skills than they used to. This creates a perfect storm where employers have to work just as hard to attract and retain great talent as candidates and employees have to work to get and keep their jobs.

This shift in power means employers must treat their employees better, even if it‚Äôs not required by a law.

Digital has changed the game.

This one in particular speaks to more to today’s job market, and, in reality, ties into the above improvement as well. Now that digital permeates almost every piece of our workforce in some way or another, work itself is easier than it used to be. By this fact alone, conditions for workers in America has largely improved over the last 135 years, going from sooty factories to clean office spaces.

Sure, sitting at a desk for 9 hours a day might eventually kill you, but it’s got to be better than dying in a coal mine, right?

Essentially, work is better than it was 135 years ago. The law has your back, your employer has your back, and work environments have your back.

That’s not to say we don’t still have some way to go…

Take, for example, who Labor Day was intended for: the grunt laborers, those who were carrying America on their back, bleeding red, white and blue to create a better country and do the work others didn’t want to do. And now look at who celebrates Labor Day: for the most part it’s the suits, those who have PTO anyways, and who go out and get services from the very people who should be celebrating the day.

It’s a little sadly ironic, but for the most part, at the biggest picture level, we’re still moving forward and work conditions will keep continuing to improve to make sure employees are being taken care of and celebrated for their dedication.

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