Labor Day — a day of… Labor? Not exactly. Labor Day is a public holiday in the United States commemorating the American labor movement that resulted in laws to protect and ensure workers’ rights. The holiday was created in the late 19th century after lobbying from trade unions and a variety of labor movements to set aside a federal holiday to celebrate workers in the United States by giving them a day off.
Public holidays seem few and far between, so it’s important to take advantage of Labor Day whether you take some vacation days around the weekend or simply plan a weekend getaway. But first thing’s first.
When is the Labor Day in 2018?
In 2018, Labor Day falls on Monday, September 3rd, meaning the long weekend lasts from Saturday, September 1st to Monday, September 3rd.
Again, this is a federal holiday, so unless you happen to find yourself working as an essential employee in the federal government, go have some fun over summer’s last big weekend!
Where to go over Labor Day
If you’re traveling over Labor Day Weekend, why not head to a city with deep roots in the labor movement? While this list could certainly be much longer, we’ve decided to focus in on some of the top spots in Labor Movement history: New York City, Detroit, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Birmingham.
New York CityView Hotels in New York City
As the largest city in the country, it’s no surprise that New York City played an important role in the labor movement of this country. It would be too grand an endeavor to visit every historically-relevant site over Labor Day Weekend, but an obvious stop would be the former location of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. on Washington Place and Greene Street just a block away from Washington Square.
It was here on March 25, 1911 that 146 garment workers — primarily Jewish and Italian immigrant women — lost their lives to a fire that enveloped the top three floors of the 10-story facility. The average age of the victims was just 19 years old.
A number of exits were locked with only one fire escape on the premises and firefighting equipment couldn’t reach that height at the time, resulting in one of the greatest workers’ tragedies in the city’s history. A plaque on location from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union reads, “Out of their martyrdom came new concepts of social responsibility and labor legislation.”
DetroitView Hotels in Detroit
“Few cities are more closely tied to the labor movement than Detroit,” wrote Kristen Chinery, an archivist for Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther Library. Indeed, the city has been celebrating Labor Day since August 16, 1884 when a demonstration held in Recreation Park drew a crowd of 50,000. This and future demonstrations or parades were used to highlight concerns raised by the growing labor movement in Detroit. President Harry Truman even declared his candidacy for the presidency in Detroit at Labor Day celebrations in 1948. President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both followed suit.
Unfortunately, Labor Day celebrations withered away as population bled to the surrounding suburbs and the parade was eventually canceled. In the early 1980s, Detroiters involved in the city’s labor movement brought the parade back to life and it remains to this day an important local and political tradition in the city.
Washington D.C.View Hotels in Washington D.C.
When looking at our nation’s capital, it’s next to impossible to zero in on one highlight of the Labor Movement. But you could certainly do worse than learn about A. Philip Randolph who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925– the first labor organization led predominantly by African-Americans. Randolph was also vocal in the early Civil Rights Movement and his activism in both movements led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the defense industries throughout World War II.
Linking up with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Randolph and his colleagues proposed a march on Washington which was, of course, realized on August 28, 1963, with an estimated crowd of around 300,000. A monument to Randolph and his life stands inside Union Station with the commemoration reading, “Dedicated by the AFL-CIO to the memory of A. Philip Randolph, America’s foremost Black Labor and Civil Rights leader.”
Looking for events in Washington D.C. to celebrate? Destination DC has put together a list of 20 to get you started.
San FranciscoView Hotels in San Francisco
You’d be hard-pressed to find a movement that didn’t involve a bloody struggle, and that was, unfortunately, the case with the Labor Movement. Bloody Thursday is how many refer to the events of July 5, 1934, when two supporters of the Pacific Coast maritime strike were killed alongside hundreds of wounded picketers. Workers reacted, some 127,000 of them across 160 different unions, by walking off their jobs. The city was for all intents and purposes shut down for three full days before the demands of the longshoremen were met. National legislation followed the next year establishing collective bargaining and the National Labor Relations Board.
In 2014, the city unveiled a new $100 million cruise ship terminal named in honor of James Herman, who served as port commissioner and head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Birmingham, AlabamaView Hotels in Birmingham
Alabama is a state that was front and center when it came to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Since Civil Rights are often entwined with Workers’ Rights, it’s no surprise that Birmingham has a story waiting to be shared with travelers.
Like many cities during the post-Civil War Industrial Revolution, Birmingham saw a steady rise in its steel industry. Interestingly, it seems that the issue of workers’ rights forced white laborers to find common ground with their African-American colleagues early on due to the harsh working conditions they found themselves in. Business owners tried to ignite racial tensions to pit the two groups against each other and set union efforts back, writes historian Brian Kelly, but eventually, labor unions were able to enjoy local bargaining power following the conclusion of World War II. Then with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, African-American workers were able to move up into higher-paying skilled positions that were previously denied to them based on the color of their skin.