Labor Day…should not be considered just “another holiday,” headlined an article in The Manitowoc Herald-News on August 30, 1930. The holiday “should be a time for earnest consideration for betterment of conditions of life and happiness of the workers.”
Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City to honor the American labor movement and the contributions workers have made to the success of the nation. The 1930 article continues, “it should be a day for thoughtful exchange of ideas and their discussion for advancing the work of constructive buildings of the community by engendering a closer and more sincere co-operation of citizens for things which will promote their own interests.”
The article concludes with the statement, “The annual observance of Labor Day should mean something to the workers and to the community.” Twelve years later, in 1942, the meaning of Labor Day changed significantly due to war efforts on the home front.
On September 5, 1942, the headline of the Manitowoc Herald-Times read, “Labor Day Observances Not to Interrupt War Industry,” as Manitowoc was observing its first war time Labor Day in more than 20 years. Industries were set to continue operation, and the Central Labor Council abandoned its annual picnic for the first time in 40 years. Instead of a picnic, a band concert was held at Washington Park in conjunction with a speaking program.
Set to speak were H. Herman Rauch, representing the Wisconsin Council for Civilian Defense, and George Haberman, president of the Milwaukee Federated Trade Council. Rauch gave an address on the value of the civilian defense program and Haberman spoke on “Labor in the War.” Presiding over the speaking program was Mayor Martin Georgenson.
An ad in the paper promoting the Labor Day concert and speaking program encouraged the purchase of war bonds. “Today all America salutes Labor for its four-star Victory drive in out-producing the Axis in guns, planes, tanks, submarines and ships and all the weapons with which we will win this war; in supplying millions of men to the Army, Navy, Marines Corps and Coast Guard; in working on Civilian Defense through air raid protection, salvage, conservation, Red Cross and other home front activities; and in setting the pace for America’s great war bond victory drive.”
On a national level, production machines were set to keep working on Labor Day in 1942. Another article in the September 5 issue of the Manitowoc Herald-Times, expresses how the nation gave up its traditional weekend of frolicking in order to “keep machines grinding against the Axis.” War workers apparently needed little urging to stick to their machines on this holiday. “Symbolizing the idea that war goes on at top speed on the holiday, the Navy said 150 warships, small and large, would be launched or their keels laid in 27 states on Monday.”
Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was no exception; work on the submarines was expected to continue ‘round the clock’ on Labor Day. At this time, work was underway on the Redfin, the eighth in the fleet of ten submarines contracted by the U.S. Navy late in 1940. The article states: “The yards here, now employing close to 6,500 workers, has adopted a general policy of working through holidays the same as any other day.”
During this Labor Day Weekend, while many entertain thoughts of summer memories and the upcoming school year, or perhaps attend various picnics, parades, and celebrations, it is important and appropriate that we remember the reason for the holiday - the American worker who has made this country what it is today.