The meaning of labor

David Ransburg
David Ransburg

We celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September, and I’ve always thought that this holiday may be the most important one for family businesses. If that statement strikes you as strange, please bear with me.

Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894, and it is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. While originally conceived of as a celebration of organized workers, most people now see it as a celebration of all laborers, organized or not.

Family enterprises, representing the vast majority of businesses in North America, certainly contribute a tremendous amount of labor to our economy. For that reason alone, it would be appropriate for family businesses everywhere to celebrate Labor Day. But, there’s more…

The word “labor” has another meaning beyond “toiling at work” in its relationship to childbirth. A quick review of “labor’s” etymology shows that the original meaning referred to “toil, exertion, task,” while the secondary meaning associated with childbirth followed a few hundred years later. Refer to “labor pains” today, though, and there is no question that most will initially think of childbirth… especially for expectant mothers!

There is, unfortunately, no nationally recognized “Family Business Day,” but that is no cause for despair. The efforts of family businesses do not go unnoticed: their holiday is Labor Day – after all, what better holiday is there for family businesses to celebrate than the one whose meaning is both work and family?


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