How Labor Got Its Day


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tugFor a lot of people, Labor Day means a vacation day and the end of summer. But do you know why Labor Day is a holiday?

Labor Day is a day set aside to pay tribute to working people, past and present.



In this lesson, you are going to learn why we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September. You are also going to discover why workers organize labor unions.


Click here to read a story about the creation of Labor Day in the United States.

look for this union labelYou might think this is the end of the story. Workers in the United States and around the world had their holiday! But there were many things in the workplace that workers wanted to change. Labor Day was really just the beginning.

More unions were formed. Workers were coming together to bring attention to how they were being mistreated. They negotiated with employers and lobbied government to increase wages, reduce the hours people worked and improve working conditions. It took many more years but the results of their efforts can be seen in how workers are treated today.


In what ways are the lives of workers and families different today than they were on the first Labor Day? Click here to reread the story How Labor Got Its Day, which will help you come up with your answers.

Can you list five ways? Use the notepad below to record your five differences.


Labor Day was started at a time when workers were tired of long hours, low wages and uncertain jobs. With so many people needing jobs employers could, and often did, take advantage of the situation by treating workers very badly.

Workers found that there was strength in numbers. Forming labor unions gave them more bargaining power with their employers. Parades and strikes showed that workers were united and brought public attention to how workers were being treated.


You will be assessed on your ability to identify ways in which the lives of workers and their families have changed since the first Labor Day.


1. Did you learn some new words while you were reading the story? Try this crossword puzzle to test what you know.
2. In small groups, read a biography of a person who helped improve the lives of workers and their families for example, Cesar Chavez, (Big) Annie Clemenc (of Calumet), Samuel Gompers, Lewis Hine, Mary Harris (Mother) Jones, A. Philip Randolph or Walter Reuther. Create a play that tells others in your class about this person and what he or she did.
3. Unions sometimes use a label to let consumers know a product has been made by its members. In the 1970s, one union, the labelInternational Ladies Garment Workers Union, had a song that encouraged people to buy clothing with its label. Create a label that could be put on all kinds of goods today that would let people know they were union-made.
4. Labor Day is also a time to recognize present-day workers who make our lives better. Write a letter thanking a worker who has made your life better. Is there someone at school or in your community that you would like to thank? Or maybe you want to thank someone who has made something you use a lot?