The Genius of Labor Day

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Editor’s note: To mark the Labor Day holiday, we are republishing this article, originally released in 2020.

Labor Day became an American Federal Holiday in 1894. Most other countries celebrate Labor on May 1. That date had been a pagan celebration, but in the late 19th century, European socialists adopted it as the annual holiday devoted to labor with marches and riots.

Industrialization brought labor problems to the United States with some nasty consequences. American workers wanted more money, better working conditions and recognition. Money and better conditions were hard to give. So labor suggested a holiday, and management and Congress was enthused. A holiday not built around an armed uprising was just the thing. But May 1st was a reminder of everything they wanted the workers not to think about.

So, the first Monday in September was chosen. Being the last weekend before children returned to school, it created a three-day, family oriented holiday. Rather than marching under the red flag, families headed to the beach or lake or wherever for a final summer outing. The vendors at these places thought it was a delightful idea. And so, Labor Day became not a day to plan revolutions but a time to kick back and have a beer, and for the vacation industry to have one last summer blow-off.

Think about it. The threat was a European style revolution. The solution was a holiday, one the kids wouldn’t let the workers ignore. Those making money out of summer got a three-day weekend to peddle their wares. The workers were recognized for being workers, and at least that beef was taken care of. And some of the Christian churches who were not happy with a pagan holiday being Labor Day were also appeased.

To get a sense of the difference between the U.S. and Europe when facing political and economic chaos, the American solution was to turn a revolution into a marketable event, keep the churches quiet, and let the kids call off the union meeting.

Happy Labor Day, and think about its pure genius.

George Friedman

George Friedman is an internationally recognized geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs and the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures.

Dr. Friedman is also a New York Times bestselling author. His most recent book, THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond, published February 25, 2020 describes how “the United States periodically reaches a point of crisis in which it appears to be at war with itself, yet after an extended period it reinvents itself, in a form both faithful to its founding and radically different from what it had been.” The decade 2020-2030 is such a period which will bring dramatic upheaval and reshaping of American government, foreign policy, economics, and culture.

His most popular book, The Next 100 Years, is kept alive by the prescience of its predictions. Other best-selling books include Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, The Next Decade, America’s Secret War, The Future of War and The Intelligence Edge. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Dr. Friedman has briefed numerous military and government organizations in the United States and overseas and appears regularly as an expert on international affairs, foreign policy and intelligence in major media. For almost 20 years before resigning in May 2015, Dr. Friedman was CEO and then chairman of Stratfor, a company he founded in 1996. Friedman received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of the City University of New York and holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University.