Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?
Everyone knows that the first Monday of the month means Labor Day and Labor Day has a different meaning to everyone. To some it means that end of summer and the start of school. It’s the day you have to put away the white pants. And to some it just means that they get a long weekend. But have you ever wondered how Labor Day came to be?
While there is a lot of debate over who actually founded the day, both Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire claim to have founded the holiday, we know for sure that Labor Day can be traced back to 1882 in New York. On September 5th, 1882 leaders of the Central Labor Union wanted to celebrate the workers with a parade honoring their work and festival for them and their families. They wanted their demonstration scheduled for the first Monday in September because it coincided with a conference being held by the Knights of Labor, who are one of the biggest and most powerful unions. While participating would mean sacrificing a day of wages, more than 10,000 people showed up to march in the parade and join the festivities.
It was not all smooth sailing for Labor Day though. Some were reluctant to participate because of the violence that was seen during protests on International Workers’ Day in Chicago. On May 4th, 1886 protesters demanding an 8 hour work day erupted into violence when someone threw a bomb into a group of police, killing one. In an attempt to control the crowd, police shot into the group and killed an unknown number of people. This protest, which became known as the Haymaker Affair, lead to a crackdown on labor groups as Americans became fearful of radicalized movement members.
However, even with some people leery of the idea, Labor Day celebrations continued in New York. In 1885 and 1886 municipal governments in New York had started passing ordinances for the celebration, which had officially been moved the first Monday in September in 19944. Even though New York was the first state to propose making Labor Day a holiday, on February 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to pass a law making it an official holiday. New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey would quickly follow suit. By 1894, another 23 states had passed legislation for Labor Day and in June of that year, Grover Cleveland officially declared Labor Day, the first Monday of September, a legal holiday.
Today, Labor Day is still a legal holiday and is celebrated with parades in New York, Chicago, and other cities all over the country. So this year as you are enjoying a parade and an end of the summer barbecue or packing up your white jeans make sure to remember to celebrate the American worker and everything they have done for our country.