Labor Day from Workers’ Rights to Barbecues

September 9, 2021  |  By Peg Kern
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Enjoying a plate of spaghetti on a foodie tour in ItalyFor us at The International Kitchen, most holidays are all about the food: what are we making, what did we eat, how good was it? But we do realize that most holidays have a much deeper historical, religious, or political purpose.

Did you know that most of the world celebrates “Labor Day” on May 1? They call it “International Worker’s Day” but it’s the same thing – a public holiday that commemorates labor’s struggles in the growing industrial world of the Nineteenth Century and celebrates what workers have given to the prosperity of their country. In the US as elsewhere it came into being spurred by the labor movements that fought for worker’s rights and wages in the later years of the Nineteenth Century.

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Workers Evidently, in the US the Haymarket Massacre, which took place on May 4, 1886 (in our hometown, Chicago) is why we celebrate Labor Day in September and not in May—then-President Cleveland did not want the holiday to be associated with the strikes and demonstrations that proceeded, nor the bombing and riot that marked, nor the anarchists that were convicted (and eventually martyred) that infamous day in Haymarket Square. And evidently it is also why much of the world does celebrate it on May 1, as a way to commemorate the event and the strike that led up to it.

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A Labor Day celebrationOf course, this is all a gross simplification of how Worker’s Day or Labor Day grew out of the labor movement, but you get the point.

What of Labor Day today? In many countries, in particular where there is a strong history of socialist, communist, or anarchist parties, the May 1st holiday still includes a strong political component in additional to large parades and public celebrations.

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Classic barbecue fare But in the US today it pretty much means the last gasp of summer. While there is a history of parades, festivals, and speeches, Labor Day has for the most part become an end-of-summer ritual, a time for cook-outs and one last pool party before the start of the school year. (Check out our Labor Day menu here!)

My childhood memories of Labor Day center around hamburgers, hot dogs, and deviled eggs, with a side of German potato salad, and I plan to replicate that menu today!

What are you memories of Labor Day growing up? Was it a political holiday in your culture? How did you celebrate, and what did you eat? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

Deviled Eggs By Peg Kern

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