All About Labor Day

The History of Labor

Labor Day: How it Came About; What it

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of
the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of
American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions
workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance,
there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary
of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American
Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from
rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone
unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter
McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention
that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International
Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while
serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is
that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a
committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday,
September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the
Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday
just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the
holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar
organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a
“workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor
organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers
of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to
Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances
passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state
legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature,
but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During
the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New
York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end
of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By
1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June
28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of
each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day
should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street
parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade
and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the
recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the
pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women
were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic
significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American
Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was
adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects
of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a
change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass
displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more
a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading
union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials
are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest
standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has
brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and
political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute
on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and
leadership — the American worker.

Source: http://www.dol.gov/opa/aboutdol/laborday.htm

-Robert Catalano