Translation and Language Industry Observations

Everybody loves a long weekend. It gives you time to spend with family and friends. It also gives you a day off from work. But is there any substance to this federal holiday? Or is it just a scam perpetrated by the government?

What is the difference between May Day and Labor Day?

In Europe, many countries observe labor day on May 1. May Day’s roots are twofold. In ancient times, May Day originated as a pagan festival celebrating spring, fertility, and rebirth in many cultures. However, in the late 19th century, May 1st also became associated with labor movements and was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago in 1886, where a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour workday turned violent.

May Day has considerable significance for many European countries, many which have implemented socialist policies or have a history of strong socialist movements. This includes Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland which have a long history of social-democratic governments and policies. The UK, Spain, German, France and Portugal all have or have had socialist or social-democratic movements where such parties play a prominent role in politics.

But in the United States? Socialism remains controversial and is frequently criticized by conservative and many centrist figures. During political campaigns, labeling policies or politicians as “socialist” has been a common tactic used by some to generate opposition, reflecting the term’s historical baggage.

Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was a major contender for the Democratic nomination in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. But he was a fringe candidate and his candidacy never went mainstream. During the Cold War, socialist and communist ideologies were heavily stigmatized in the U.S., often associated with the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

Which makes the very idea of a Labor Day in the USA to be an anomaly.

Labor Day’s Origin

Labor Day was established in the late 19th century as a day to celebrate and honor the achievements and contributions of workers. It originated during a time of great social and economic change, marked by the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the labor union movement. Workers faced long hours, poor conditions, and little pay, leading to widespread strikes and protests.

In the U.S., the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, organized by the Central Labor Union. It became an official federal holiday in 1894, largely as a conciliatory gesture by President Grover Cleveland following the Pullman Strike, a particularly violent labor dispute.

Commercialization and Criticism of Labor Day

Over time, the way society observes Labor Day has evolved. In the modern era, it’s become associated with end-of-summer celebrations, barbecues, and retail sales, which can detract from its original purpose. Because of this commercialization, some argue that the holiday’s initial intent to honor workers has become diluted.

For some, the commercial aspects of the holiday, especially the big sales events, might make it seem like a “scam” in the sense that its original meaning is overshadowed by consumerism.

While Labor Day was genuinely established to honor workers, some critics argue that it has lost its original intent. They believe that rather than promoting workers’ rights or highlighting labor issues, it has become more of a commercialized holiday marked by sales, barbecues, and the unofficial end of summer. Some see it as a mere symbolic gesture rather than a day promoting substantive change or awareness for workers’ rights.

Others might say that the establishment of the holiday was, to some extent, a strategic move by governing bodies to appease the labor movements without necessarily addressing any of their grievances.


While the holiday’s establishment was genuinely meant to honor workers, the commercial aspects of Labor Day grossly overshadow its original intent for nearly every person in the USA. Calling it a “scam” would not accurately capture the genuine advocacy for workers’ rights and recognition that led to its creation. But it can definitely be called a “sham.” And it is highly valid for individuals to critically evaluate how society observes and commercializes such holidays.

Happy Labor Day! GTS remains open on Labor Day and customers can place orders for translation services online as normal.


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