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 prosperity and well-being of our country.
It was hard times in the days of depression that hit the country in the 1880s. It led to widespread wage cuts and unemployment in the traditional pattern of the economic cycle. This was when the Knights of Labor came into being. It was their initiative that Labor Day turned out to be a civic event with parades and meetings.
The First Labor Day :
Contrary to the present practice 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, l883.
However, it was in l884 when the first Monday in September came to be selected as the holiday, as originally proposed. 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 l885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
The founder :
There is a difference of opinion regarding the original founder of the day. Two views, both backed by documentary evidence, are prevalent.
Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the 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.
Irrespective of the dispute over the name of the initiator it is clear that the Labor Day proposal was initiated in the United States by the Knights of Labor. Accordingly a committee was formed to plan a demonstration and picnic. In 1882 the Knights of Labor held a large parade in New York City. In 1884 the group held a parade on the first Monday of September and passed a resolution to hold all future parades on that day and to designate the day as Labor Day.
However the state recognition of the day was yet to come.
The recognition :
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 2l, l887. 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.
National Labor Day was born off the labor movement during the late 19th century. The Day is a milestone in the history of American labor movement.