September 6th, 2021
Cause for Celebration?
This is a day full of picnics, parties, parades, fireworks, and other public gatherings. You’ll either see people dressed head-to-toe in red, white, and blue or people relaxing from the long, hard work filled, summer days. It wasn’t always like this, though.
Back, when America was at the height of the industrial revolution, in the late 1800s, workers were accustomed to 12-hour days working seven days a week. Not only that, they also often had to work in unsafe conditions, were not allowed breaks, and had to work in areas of insufficient access to fresh air, particularly minorities. Even with these absurd demands, workers barely made a living and were scraping by. They began to question the ethics and morality of these obligations which led to unions forming and strikes performed.
One of the first strikes that ended violently was the nationally recognized Haymarket Riot in 1886. Many of the workers and Chicago policemen were killed in the duration of the riot. However, not all were violent; many workers in New York City collectively took time off, unpaid, to march from City Hall to Union Square to signify a “Labor Day Parade” of their own.
Other outlashes led to the shaping of our history like the Pullman Palace Car Company, which involved the workers going on strike to protest wage cuts and firings of their union representatives. This led to the American Railroad Union boycotting all the Pullman railway cars, effectively stopping the railroad traffic nationwide and crippling the nation’s transportation system instantly. When the federal government sent troops to the area to manage the situation, it only further inflamed the riots.
Many industrial epicenters around the country began to take notice of these riots and began to support the movement of a “workingman’s holiday” to celebrate their hard workers and to prevent strikes from forming. Yet, it wasn’t until May 11, 1894, 12 years after the first march in NYC that congress nationally recognized the day as a holiday.
The holiday serves as a reminder and joyous celebration of “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community. One would think of this to be redundant, considering how much American labor raised the standards of living at the time and having generated the greatest production of value the world has ever seen.
Who Takes the Credit for Labor Day?
According to many, Peter J. McGuire, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was credited for the birthing of Labor Day but others consider Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor Union, a candidate as well.
Why the mix up? We don’t really know. What we do know is that Peter J. McGuire suggested a day for a “general holiday for the laboring classes” to recognize those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” Yet, according to the New Jersey Historical Society, when President Cleveland signed the law into creation, the Paterson Morning Call said, “the souvenir pen should go to alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.”
It is important to remember how far our country has come in regulating the injustice that once plagued the American labor system. If we do not, we are doomed to repeat it.
So, take this day to celebrate not only your hard work and dedication, but also those who have lived before you that set up the world we live in now.
Happy Labor Day!
“Labor Day 2021” History.com, 6 Oct 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day-1. Accessed 6 August 2021.
“History of Labor Day” U.S. Department of Labor, dol.gov, https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history. Accessed 6 August 2021.