Labor Day is generally regarded simply as a day of rest, and political demonstrations are rare. Forms of celebration include picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, water activities, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. Some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school.
President Grover Cleveland signed a law designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day nationwide. This is interesting because Cleveland was not a labor union supporter. In fact, he was trying to repair some political damage that he suffered earlier that year when he sent federal troops to put down a strike by the American Railway Union at the Pullman Co. in Chicago, IL. That action resulted in the deaths of 34 workers.
In European countries, China and other parts of the world, May Day, the first day in May, is a holiday to celebrate workers and labor unions. Before it became an international workers holiday, May Day was a celebration of spring and the promise of summer.
Membership in labor unions in the United States reached an all-time high in the 1950s when about 40 percent of the work force belonged to unions. Today, union membership is about 14 percent of the working population. Labor Day now carries less significance as a celebration of working people and more as the end of summer. Schools, government offices and businesses are closed on Labor Day so people can get in one last trip to the beach or have one last cookout before the weather starts to turn colder.
An old, and now largely ignored, custom prohibits the wearing of white after Labor Day. The explanations for this tradition range from the idea that white clothes are worse protection against cold weather in the winter than colored clothes to the intention of the rule as a status symbol for new members of the middle class in the late 19th century and early 20th century.