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A Brief History of Labor Day – and things to do around Portland

Sunday, September 6, 2015

-ac8a53f6b0123259Labor Day, along with its springtime cousin, May Day, both grew out of the American labor struggles of the 1880s. The first Labor Day in the U.S. took place in 1882 at Union Square in New York City, as over 10,000 workers took an unpaid day off to march in support of workers’ rights. Congress had passed an 8-hour-workday law back in 1862, but it was largely unenforced; it was this issue along with rampant abuses of mostly Irish tenants by their landlords that was a spark that finally ignited direct action by the people of New York.

As a result of this and other actions around the country, Congress finally set aside Labor Day as an official, paid holiday in 1894, ensuring that workers no longer had to take an unpaid day off to show their solidarity. Of course, in modern times, there are many businesses who choose to remain open on Labor Day, including most of the retail and service industries, which employ a total of about 25% of the U.S. workforce. But for those lucky enough to enjoy the extra day off, here are some events around Portland:

“A People’s History of Portland” – Walking Tour by Know Your City. Before it became Portlandia, a mecca for young hipsters and rich Californians, Portland was built on the backs of immigrant laborers and working-class people of all kinds – this history tour is free (donations suggested) and runs every Thursday-Sunday at 10 am, meeting at Dan & Louis’ Oyster Bar, 208 SW Ankeny St.

Art in the Pearl, an annual Labor Day weekend festival featuring local theater, artists, music, and hands-on activity. The festival is totally free and requires no tickets for entry, taking place in the Pearl District’s North Park Blocks.

Portland Film Festival – A non-profit film festival that focuses on storytelling and local filmmakers. Click the link for a full list of showtimes and locations – in our NW neighborhood, participants include McMenamins Mission Theater at NW 16th and Glisan, Living Room Theater at SW 10th and Stark, and Cinema 21 at NW 21st and Glisan.

As many of us enjoy a day off work this Monday, we can remember to thank the brave men and women of years past who fought to bring us the 8-hour workday, minimum wage, paid time off, safety regulations, and other workers’ rights – and also remember that as long as some Americans are still forced to work on Labor Day, current minimum wage lags far behind the cost of living, and so many of our fellow human beings live in poverty or on the streets, that the struggle is still not over.

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