By Pam Dudding
Many today believe that Labor Day is just another “holiday,” unaware of its history. Here are some tidbits.
Labor Day is a public holiday and sometimes a day of festivities, held in honor of working people in the United States and Canada on the first Monday in September. In many other countries, it is celebrated on May 1.
Some believe that it began with Peter McGuire, a man who is considered “the Father of the Labor Day Holiday,” according to Purple Trail. McGuire was an Irish-American pioneer unionist who wanted citizens that “labored” all year long to be acknowledged and have a day to relax.
McGuire is quoted as saying the following statement during a Central Labor Union on May 18, 1882: “Let us have, a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American Industry.”
September 1 was the chosen date because it’s between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. The first Labor Day parade was held on Tuesday. Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City.
It has been noted in history, that during the Industrial Revolution, Americans worked, on average, 12-hour days, seven days a week. This gave them the basic needs to survive during that era.
What is foreign to Americans today was commonplace back then. Children as young as five and six regularly worked in factories and mills throughout the nation for pennies a day.
Many workers labored in unsafe, unsanitary conditions and even some “with insufficient access to fresh air.”
In the late 18th-century, labor unions started rising and became more prominent and vocal for the American employees and began organizing strikes and rallies. They protested poor conditions and encouraged employers to renegotiate hours and their pay.
History reveals that on September 5, 1882, “Ten thousand workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first ever Labor Day Parade.”
Years later, many states passed legislation recognizing September 1 as a holiday. Congress, however, did not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, “when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. Then on May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.”
Then, victory was won, as President Grover Cleveland signed the holiday into law on June 28, 1894.