The True Story of Labor Day: How a Fight for Workers’ Rights Became a Retail Marketing Bonanza

By Alyse Borkan  |  Aug 31, 2015
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Labor Day is the holiday that bookends the American summer. We celebrate the long weekend with grilled burgers, last-minute getaways, back-to-school prep, and sleeping in. Unfortunately, the day has also grown synonymous with blow-out sales, overcrowded stores, and meaningless markdowns. Not unlike many American holidays, rampant commercialization detracts from the real, original purpose of Labor Day — appreciation and leisure for the workforce. And, ironically enough, these deep discounts promotions force many retail employees to work extra hours. Somewhere along the way, Labor Day lost its meaning.


It all started when…

In the late 1800s — arguably the height of the Industrial Revolution — the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to earn a basic living. To fight these unfathomable working conditions, there was a strike held in New York City on September 5th, 1882. Workers from every industry skipped the 9 – 5 and gathered to march in the streets. Though the organizers were concerned with the lack of supporters, word spread like wildfire, and later that same day over 10,000 people flooded the streets. Despite the overwhelming involvement in the marches that spread to numerous cities across the country, the day was not truly recognized as a federal holiday until a decade later.

How did it become a national holiday?

Conflict peaked at what became known as the Pullman Strike in 1894, when Grover Cleveland sent U.S. Army troops to break up a Chicago strike protesting for fair wages and to improve working conditions. This was the first official nationwide strike, with 150,000 workers across the country banding together. Following the height of the turbulence, Cleveland provided a peace offering through signing legislation that officially made Labor Day a national holiday. The Pullman strike was symbolic, transforming the country’s focus on helping workers in poor conditions to an even greater purpose of embodying self-reliance and empowerment. This emphasis on self-determination still underscores America’s values today, making celebration of this national day so important.

Price cuts! Limited time offer! Buy one, get one!

When we look back in history, it’s not hard to see how meaningful Labor Day should be — yet it seems as if we’ve gotten distracted by the draw of a fresh fall wardrobe and a discounted flat screen. Retailers use the extended weekend, more-leisurely-than-usual attitudes, and the 8 hours freed up in everyone’s schedule to take full advantage of sales opportunities. Consumers are looking for a refresh in September, and the advertising push from retailers has only fueled the fire to spend the day in stores and out of the sun. Windows are flooded with red slashes to convince would-be customers to check out the “the biggest discount of the year!”

Traditional mattress stores are some of the worst culprits of gimmicky sales tactics that can trick you into thinking you’re getting the best deal of your life. The $14 billion mattress industry has been flooded with corporate behemoths who spend multi-millions on advertising, wasted store real estate, and those terrible jingles. From cheerleader street teams to fully-dressed mascots, traditional mattress stores will stop at nothing during holiday weekends to promote the discounts of their highly marked-up prices to lure you in.  To financially support the extensive costs of marketing, consumers end up swiping their cards for prices that are higher than necessary. And even with all that money spent, they’re still forced to purchase mattresses in stuffy, poorly lit showrooms by commission-based salespeople.

Skip the sale.

Casper’s business model centers on removing retail costs and re-engineering the supply chain to create a better mattress at a fraction of the traditional cost. By maintaining control over the entire production process and selling direct to consumer, Casper can offer its award-winning mattress for a third of what a knock-off would cost in a retail setting.

To take advantage of some of the last sunny days, we’re able to skip the sale and going sailing instead. Don’t spend your day off in a crowded aisle doused with fluorescent lighting. Put on your sunglasses, grab your sunscreen, and spend Labor Day the way it was intended to be spent — anywhere but a store.

Get tickets to go sailing with Casper here.

h/t The Atlantic

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