Today a time to reflect on the legacy of labor

Labor Day is a holiday that means vastly different things to different people. Many people around our region – as in most parts of the country where the weather cooperates – will take the opportunity to enjoy some outdoor leisure time. We’ll be putting brats on the grill, camping, swimming or soaking up the last rays of official summer sun.

That’s what Labor Day is: a time to relax and enjoy not having to … labor. We don’t often take time to reflect on the holiday’s deeper significance or historical underpinnings.

Labor Day’s origins can be traced back to New York City in the 1880s. The last decades of the 1800s weren’t always pleasant times for working people in this country. Wages were low and many jobs held dangerous working conditions. It was amid that landscape in 1882, according to some accounts, when NYC’s Central Labor Union coordinated the first holiday to mark the contribution of working people to our nation’s progress.

Later that decade, New York and several other states formalized the observance. By the early 20th century, the holiday began to be celebrated nationally.

In the central Upper Peninsula, labor’s contributions are particularly evident and relevant. The mining industry – which provided the initial push for settling our area – was built on the strength of immigrant workers who formed the regional labor pool. The Empire and Tilden mines still form the backbone of the local economy.

Today, the Marquette County Labor Council will mark those and many other local labor contributions with their 24th annual Labor Day Festival in Ishpeming. The parade, with a rally and picnic to follow, are at the Cliffs Shaft Museum near Lake Bancroft. The parade starts at 11am.

So we invite you to kick back and enjoy this Labor Day. But, whether you’re at the formal activities or in your backyard hammock, take a moment to remember the hard work that’s behind this holiday.