It’s once again the first Monday in September, and that means Americans are taking the day off, hitting the beach, and grilling in honor of all the supposedly wonderful things labor unions have done. But rather than placing so much public emphasis on Labor Day — a tradition whose time has passed — Americans would be better off observing something that takes place a couple of weeks later: Constitution Day.
Ostensibly, Labor Day is meant to celebrate the achievements of the American workforce, but it’s really an outgrowth of the labor movement meant to celebrate the achievements of labor unions. It was first celebrated on September 5, 1882, by the Central Labor Union Party in New York. In 1894, Congress designated the first Monday in September Labor Day. The holiday was later adopted by state and local governments across the United States, giving most Americans a three-day weekend at summer’s end — which is what most people are really celebrating anyway.
If you ask the average person, they’ll tell you that Labor Day is the symbolic last hurrah of beaches and barbecues for the year, the last day you can wear white in public (for some weird reason I never really understood), and the annual go-ahead for pumpkin-flavored coffee at your local caffeine hub.
This makes sense. Thanks to a combination of innovation, market forces, and union cronyism and corruption, the labor movement as we now know it no longer deserves a national holiday any more than America needs unions. What began as a movement of voluntary collective bargaining to protect the rights of workers has been perverted into a crony system where government-supported labor groups are able to obfuscate market forces in the private sector and bleed taxpayers dry in the public sector. As Amy Otto explains in greater detail at the Federalist, 21st-century America’s biggest obstacle to making a decent wage isn’t Snidely Whiplash-looking capitalist caricature, but rather the very regulations that the labor movement fought to create in the first place. Thanks to modern technology and market innovation, workers are better equipped to look out for their own rights, make their own hours, and negotiate their income than ever before in human history.
In fact, the freedom afforded to the average workers — thanks to the gig economy — has actually put many of them at odds with unions, which look to the government to protect their quasi-monopolies against the forces of competition, as in the case of Uber drivers versus taxi drivers’ associations). Local regulations are forcing ride-sharing services out of cities to the benefit of over-regulated, union-run taxi industries. Licensure requirements are making it almost impossible to start a small business in some cities, and ever-increasing minimum wage mandates are forcing small businesses to lay people off.
Ironically, the very fruits of the labor movement are now what is harming American workers the most. That’s hardly anything to celebrate. Workers’ rights based on the principles of free association and personal property are essential to a just society, but our public reverence for this dying movement is at best obsolete and at worst completely misguided.
Meanwhile, federal, state, and local governments as well as the private sector could do our republic and its future at least a symbolic service by making our three-day September weekend coincide with Constitution Day on September 17, the anniversary of the signing of the document in 1787. In the event that the date falls on a weekend, the holiday is observed on the closest weekday.
Constitution Day celebrates the remarkable task our Framers completed in developing the revolutionary federal system of government that we enjoy today. It was — and still is — a brilliant framework, based on the ideals put forward just 11 years prior in our Declaration of Independence. Put into action, it allowed the U.S. to flourish into the great nation that we currently enjoy.
Many people don’t even know when Constitution Day is. It may be marked by children if their school designates it. But we owe a far greater debt than we are paying to the federal framework that saved our republic in its infancy and protects our God-given liberty through an ingenious system of checks and balances.
History and civics teachers may take a day to teach about the importance of September 17, but our public reverence for the document and the achievements of the men who brought it into existence are severely lacking. It’s not difficult to see that our Constitution is in crisis. We have a federal administrative state that usurps power from the several states at every turn thanks to a Congress willing to give away its own power, a runaway imperial presidency, and a court system that threatens to remove our sovereignty as American citizens by a judicial oligarchy — many of whom no longer see the relevance of the document as written.
If the number of daily abuses carried out against the Constitution were instead inflicted upon the American worker, our country would look like a communist labor camp.
An easy way to see what a society truly values is to look at what it publicly reveres. Take a look at the other holidays we celebrate, for our independence on July 4, for our fallen every Memorial Day, and for our veterans on November 11. Does our Constitution not deserve at least a fraction of the same reverence?
Naturally there’s the reality that, eventually, a Constitution Day weekend would require the same amount of public prodding as does Memorial Day to remind people of the day’s importance. But even that would be a much better problem to have than our current September holiday disparity.
Taking a single day out of the year to appreciate the document that established our republic obviously wouldn’t reverse the anti-constitutional trends that permeate nearly every level and branch of government in the U.S., but it certainly couldn’t hurt.