Americans love to celebrate Labor Day as our last summer hurrah, with many heading outdoor with our favorite refreshments. However, how many people actually consider why we celebrate this one day above all others in September? The teacher in me wants to know, I’m in research mode and taking you with me. Let’s find the reason behind this holiday.
Why do we celebrate?
According to DOL (U.S. Department of Labor), our day of picnics, barbecues, and parades was created over a century ago to celebrate American laborers. I think you will agree that a national holiday is a much better tribute to our workers than a statue in some park–much better.
Nevertheless, why would we create a national holiday just to celebrate people doing a job and receiving a paycheck? The premise seems a bit odd since many of us are just happy to find a job that offers pay. To find out, lets’ take a look back in history.
What were the historical events that led to creating Labor Day?
Back in the day — late 1800s — the US was deep into our Industrial Revolution. These were the days that most everyone worked 12-hour days everyday for very little pay in unsafe environments. Most everyone included children, some as young as five-years-old–earning much less than their older counterparts.
A pendulum can only swing one way for so long before it must return to equilibrium. In this case, the swing back required the power of joined forces. Consequently, unions were born. This type of organized group had much more power to affect change, but change came slowly and with great pain. In order to flex this new muscle, unions organized protests and marches. Some spawned ugly outbursts like the Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which many people died. However, one march sparked the idea of Labor Day.
It was September of 1882 and thousands of workers marched in New York City in what they called a “Labor Day Parade”. The idea took hold and some states adopted the holiday. It took another 12 years for Congress to designate it as a national holiday.
Who was the genius who gave us the day off work?
The answer to the question about the responsible party isn’t quite clear. There’s somewhat of a historical tug of war between two important characters. Many had thought it was Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor. However, many now believe it was Matthew Maguire, machinist and the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J. It very well could have been Mr. Maguire, because he did serve as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882 when they approved a proposal for the holiday and organized the first historic Labor Day Parade — more of a march — in New York.
What do we do now?
With all my questions answered, I’m done here. Off to the barbie! Enjoy your holiday!
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