It wasn’t always about hot dogs and cornhole.

In fact, the poolside serenity of this three-day weekend masks the often forgotten turbulent history that led to Labor Day’s creation.

In the late 19th Century, growing labor unrest led to a series of violent actions against U.S. workers demanding higher pay, safer working conditions and the right to unionize. In and era of rapid  industrialization, America’s urban centers were bursting at the seams, filled with indigent newcomers desperate for work, and prime targets of exploitation.

These hard fought labor struggles ultimately resulted in vast improvements in working conditions for millions, spurring an era of new labor regulations, including laws that established an 8-hour day and prohibited child labor.The reforms also gave rise to an era of strong organized labor, higher wages and a marked increase in the ranks of America’s middle class.

The gains were dramatic, but they didn’t come easy.

These two short videos provide a good brief overview of those origins.

Additionally, PBS and Scientific American feature good articles on Labor Day’s roots, as do these Lowdown posts on the history of May Day and the rise and decline of America’s labor unions.

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