Most kids know that Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September; that it is a tribute to American workers; and it signals an unofficial end to summer. This year, we're going to look a little deeper into the history of Labor Day.
Vocabulary for this lesson will include:
Industrial Revolution, mass production, trade union, collective bargaining
History of Labor Day
During the Industrial Revolution, people were needed to work in factories, operating mass production machines. Millions of people left their farms to work in these factories, looking for a secure year-round income source from a job that would also give them shelter from the elements of nature. The reality was not as positive. They found themselves working twelve to fourteen hours a day in dingy buildings and underground mines, sometimes in dangerous conditions.
As people grew frustrated and weary from this arrangement, they began banding together in trade unions to bargain collectively for the benefit of all its members. Eventually, someone suggested a day to honor the laborers. The person responsible for this is in dispute. It has usually been attributed to Peter McGuire of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, who wanted a day to praise the efforts of the everyday people. Other research points to Matthew Maguire, a machinist who later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, NJ.
Regardless of who made the initial suggestion, the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 by the Knights of Labor in New York City. Other labor organizations soon began observing this holiday, as well, and in 1894, Labor Day became an official national holiday, recognizing contributions the American worker has made to our society.
- What are motivations people have for working? What motivates people to work hard? What demotivates them?
- Is all work of equal value? What types of work do you think are most important? Is any work not important? How do you perceive the value of the work of a professional sports player or other entertainment figure versus the value of the work of a police officer? fire fighter? doctor? What type of work situations are created due to professional sports and other entertainment?
- Which types of jobs do you consider desirable? Undesirable? What would happen to society if no one were willing to do the 'undesirable' jobs?
- After viewing these images, discuss how you think factories have changed over the years.
- Who Am I? (using occupation cards (pdf file)--similar to Twenty Questions--one child will draw a card, and the others will ask questions to determine the occupation the first child is representing)
- Town Planner--divide into groups, give each group a poster board and pencils. Each group needs to plan a town, including the occupations needed to help the town run smoothly. If time permits, each group can also create a brochure promoting their town. Afterward, the groups can get together to vote on the best town plan.
A few days after our lesson, we are taking a group field trip to a local factory. I was hoping to tour our local GM factory, but they aren't doing tours until January 2010, so we had to settle for a local fine chocolate factory. Darn! *wink*