Labor Day – More Than Just Another Long Weekend

intra labor dayToday, most Americans associate the upcoming Labor Day holiday with family and friend get-togethers, BBQs, an extended weekend and the unofficial culmination of summer. However, like other commemorative holidays, the real history behind this day has become blurred.  Although, many of us have some idea of its origination, most of us would be hard-pressed to provide a detailed narrative.

With the Labor Day holiday only several days away, now seems the perfect opportunity for a bit of a history lesson. So, while you’re grilling your steaks, taking in one of the last beach days, heading out for a long weekend getaway or just enjoying downtime with family and friends, I hope you’ll take a moment out of the day to pay homage to the American workers who fought for the working conditions and wages we’ve come to expect today.

Labor Day, which is observed on the first Monday in September, pays tribute to the many contributions and achievements of the American worker. This day was created by the late 19th century labor movement and was declared a federal holiday in 1894.

Labor Day originated during one of American labor history’s darkest chapters. It was a time, in the late 1800s, during the height of the American Revolution, when the average American worker put in 12-hour days, seven days a week, to provide the most basic living for themselves and their families. Even children, as young as 5 or 6, despite restrictions in many states, worked in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning only a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.

During this period in America, workers of all ages, particularly recent immigrants and those who were very poor, often faced extremely unsafe working environments, including insufficient fresh air, unsanitary facilities and limited, if any, breaks during work.

However, as manufacturing continued to flourish, becoming the major source of American employment, labor unions, which began to appear in the late 18th century, became more prominent and vocal. These unions began organizing strikes and rallies to protest the deplorable working conditions and to force employers to renegotiate workers’ hours and wages.

Many of these events turned violent and numerous lives were lost. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from New York City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.

This celebrated “workingmen’s holiday” began to take hold in other industrial areas across the country, and many states passed legislation making this first Monday in September official. However, it wasn’t until 12 years later, after the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike and the American Railroad called for a boycott, crippling railroad traffic nationwide, Congress legalized the holiday. Hoping to repair ties with the American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

So, there you have it…the history of Labor Day in a nutshell. Now, if someone should ask you the significance of Labor Day this holiday weekend while you’re standing around the grill, relaxing by the poolside or possibly playing a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit, you’ll be able to spout off this brief history lesson…impressing all your friends and family.

In the meantime, I thought I’d leave you with one of my favorite Labor Day celebratory recipes. I hope you enjoy it and your holiday weekend!

Garlic and Oregano Baby Back Ribs

Ingredients:

4 pounds baby back pork ribs
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil

Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the ribs in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet in one layer. In a bowl, combine the garlic, oregano, cayenne, salt, and oil and mix well. Cover both sides of the ribs with the garlic and oregano mixture, coating evenly.

Roast in the oven for 1 hour, flipping once after 30 minutes. Remove and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

For a delicious addition, place 6 shucked ears of corn in another roasting pan or on a baking sheet and roast in the oven with the Garlic and Oregano Baby Back Ribs. Baste generously with butter and flip, with the ribs, after 30 minutes.

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