The end of summer, start of the school year, beginning of the football season and the celebration of employees everywhere—it all says September and Labor Day. If you observe its historical origins, this month would be marked by “a picnic, an abundance of cigars, and lager beer kegs.” That’s how the media of the day characterized one of the first Labor Day celebrations about 130 years ago.
At SHRM, we make it a point to recognize and applaud the contributions of every worker—and the human resources professionals who have helped that employee succeed, whether at work or in supporting a family.
In the U.S., Labor Day was created in the late 19th century by the union movement, specifically the Central Labor Union of New York City, to celebrate the impact of workers on the strength, prosperity and well-being of the nation.
History isn’t definitive on a date for the first celebration. However, most accounts credit a parade of 10,000 workers that the local union staged in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. Yet there are a few who suggest that the first observance was an 1872 parade—in Toronto, Canada. Wherever the first Labor Day was observed, the presence of cigars and beer seems to be the only constant.
Local and state governments soon began declaring the first Monday in September as a holiday for workers. On June 28, 1894, after more than 30 states had established their own laws, Congress passed legislation creating the national holiday—meaning workers no longer had to forfeit a day’s pay to march in Labor Day parades.
Since those times, the HR profession—born of “personnel administrators”—has had its own impact in improving the lives of workers and their families. That’s not to take anything away from the labor movement, which brought an end to 12-hour days, seven-day weeks, children in factories, and other workplace abuses.
But it was HR professionals who took the next steps, improving workplace conditions, providing training—guiding and shaping careers. And, with the crafting and implementation of expanded benefits packages, those professionals touched the welfare and happiness of entire families; whole generations.
Today, in developed nations like the U.S., worker abuse is, for the most part, a footnote in history and benefits packages are a given. Now our profession struggles to get people back to work after a crippling recession whose impact is still painfully evident. Our members in the C-suite lead businesses and organizations in preparing for the workplace of the future.
Today, the constant is HR.
It’s fitting that Labor Day may have originated in Canada, because SHRM’s members are improving lives around the world.
The U.S. Department of Labor says Labor Day recognizes workers who have created the “highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known.” We say the same can be said for many places globally—wherever HR professionals are at work.
Salute yourselves, as we at SHRM salute you.
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Published in the September issue of HR Magazine.
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