Labor Day Unit Study and Badge Resources
Labor Day honors the contributions and achievements of American workers. Use this free Labor Day unit study to learn more about this national holiday and earn your Labor Day badge. Other badges you may wish to earn alongside include badges such as Career Exploration, Occupation/Career (Specific) Badge, Office Worker, Law Enforcement, Chef, or any other badge that focuses on specific career choices.
History of Labor Day
In the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days seven days a week. In many states, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories, and mines, often facing extremely unsafe working conditions. As a result, labor unions began organizing strikes and rallies to protest the dangerous conditions and compel employers to set more reasonable hours and pay.
Many of these protests turned violent and both workers and law enforcement lives were lost. The first known Labor Day parade was on September 5, 1882 when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland finally made Labor Day a national holiday and signed it into law. Labor Day is observed on the first Monday of every September.
To Do: Labor Day has its roots in union protests and negotiations. Participate in a simulated union negotiation by dividing your group in to two teams, union and management. If you are earning this badge at the family level you may wish to have the kids be the union and the adults be management. Decide on a topic and come up with a list of demands for each side. For an example, view the student vs administration sample demands from PBS.
Once each side is ready, enter negotiations and see where both union and management can agree to make changes. Discuss the process and how each side will need to compromise to reach an agreement.
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Labor Day in Other Countries
While the United States celebrates Labor Day in September, much of the rest of the world celebrates International Workers Day every May 1. The holiday itself has similar roots and meaning and is a day to celebrate the worker with safe conditions and fair pay.
In many areas of the world, workers do not have legal protections or access to the power of unions. Instead they rely on worldwide consumers to only purchase from “Fair Trade” companies. These are businesses who have made a commitment to only use and sell products made from farms and factories that treat their employees within certain standards. These include:
- Safe working conditions
- Environmental protections
- Sustainable livelihoods
To Do: Research one or more of your favorite products. Where is it made? How do people there treat their employees and citizens? For example Nike was in the news in 2020 for using Chinese factories that forced Uighurs from China’s western Xinjiang region away from their families to work in the factories. The Uighurs must live at the factory and are under constant supervision. Most of these workers are young women in their 20’s.
To Do: Find out about groups such as Fairtrade America, the World Fair Trade Organization, and Fair Trade Certified. How does sourcing products through these organizations help workers around the world?
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Labor Day Crafts
One of the best parts of celebrating a holiday is making crafts and decor to set the mood.
To Do: Make one or more Labor Day crafts to decorate your house for the holiday. A few ideas are shown below.
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Labor Day Events and Parades
Traditionally, Labor Day is always celebrated with a local parade to honor workers. Garland, Texas and St. Louis Missouri are both known for having some of the best Labor Day parades in the nation. BBQs, festivals, and other entertainment is also frequently found on this holiday.
To Do: Find out what Labor Day events are being celebrated in your community. If there is nothing in your immediate town, are there celebrations that take place nearby? Watch a Labor Day parade or attend a local festival. If there is nothing in your area, create your own at home celebration with friends and family.
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Volunteer for Labor Day
The labor movement, like any movement, would have gone nowhere without people willing to volunteer their time and talents. Even today, there are many non profit organizations that support various laborers and need donations and volunteers.
To Do: Find a non profit organization that you can either volunteer for, or help fund raise for that supports workers in some way. For example, our federal wildland firefighters in the Forestry Service actually operate under the job title of Forestry Technician and many are only paid minimum wage even though they put their health and lives on the line to save people and structures. The Wildland Firefighter Foundation‘s mission is to help the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and to assist injured firefighters and their families. In addition to helping the families of fallen firefighters, they also promote promote excellence and safety in firefighting. This foundation is personal for me as my brother is a federal wildland firefighter and he has many friends who have lost their lives to the fires whose families rely on this organization. Find an organization that supports workers that is personal for you and find a way to help.
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Songs for Labor Day
Music has always been part of holiday celebrations and Labor Day is no different. Joe Hill once said, “You can make a speech: people forget it the next day. You put the information in a leaflet: people hold onto it for a week and throw it away. But if you write a song and put that information in a song, people hear it, remember it, and sing it: it lives on.” There is a great list of labor movement songs on Folkaways that address everything from unions to mill work to “black lung.”
To Do: Learn one or more songs that have been sung by the labor movement. Understand the lyrics and the history behind them.
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