The History of Labor Day

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement (unions) and is dedicated to the social and economics achievements of American workers. It entails a national tribute to the contributions that workers have made to the country.

The Founder of Labor Day

Even more than a hundred years after the first Labor Day observance, nobody is sure who was the first to propose a holiday for workers.

Some records indicate that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was the first to suggest a day to hour those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

But many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, found the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, who later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinist in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. We do know that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a picnic and demonstration.

The First Labor Day

Tuesday, September 5, 1882, Labor Day was celebrated in New York was the first time, according to the plans of the Central Labor Union. They held the second Labor Day a year later on September5, 1883.

In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the official holiday. The Central Labor Union urged other labor organizations across the country to follow New York's example and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread and in 1885, Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

The first governmental recognition was through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. A movement developed from them to secure state legislation. While the first stye bill was introduced in the New York state legislature, the first to actually become law was on February 21, 1887 in Oregon. Four more state followed that year -- Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania also passed laws to create a Labor Day Holiday. By 1984, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers and Congress got into the act that year, passing an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Going Nationwide

The way that Labor Day should be observed and celebrated was actually outline the 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 amusement and recreation of the workers and their families. This became the basis for future celebrations, with speeches by prominent men and women being added later as more emphasis was placed on the economic and civic significance of the holiday. In 1909, the AFL convention passed a resolution stating that the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday which is dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

In recent years, the character of Labor Day has undergone a change, especially in large industrial areas where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This has created a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Today, addresses by union officials, educators, clerics and government officials are given a lot of coverage in newspapers, radio and television.

The labor force in this country have added to the highest standard of living and greatest production the world has ever known. So it is appropriate for the nation to pay tribute on Labor Day to the American worker.

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