Features, Municipal Government, New York

Labor Day in America

August 30, 2019

By Neal Tepel

New York, NY – Labor day has rich history in America. The first Labor Day was organized as a protest against 12-hour workdays and seven-day work weeks. Labor unions called for a holiday to give tribute to the workers who made sacrifices for the country’s growth and prosperity.

While Labor Day in America has become mainly  a day off for most Americans and the end of summer – its roots are a bitter struggle between workers and bosses. 

The origination of the first Labor Day celebration is in dispute. Most sources claim that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, founded the holiday, first celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882 with a pro-labor demonstration and picnic in New York. At the time, Maguire was the Secretary of the Central Labor Union. He later became the Secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey. However, other sources credit Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, with first suggesting a day to honor workers.

In 1884, the New York City officially selected the first Monday in September to celebrate Labor Day. 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 same date. 

On Feb. 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to declare a state holiday to honor workers. Later that year, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey followed suit and enacted similar laws. Other states followed with legislation later.

In 1894, 12,000 federal troops were called into Pullman, Illinois, to break up a huge strike against the Pullman Railway Company. Two workers were shot and killed by U.S. marshals. Shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation on June 28, 1894, declaring the first Monday in September to be Labor Day. 

Labor Day and the labor movement have changed with the passage of more than a century. But the purpose of the holiday remains unchanged. The day is reserved to honor the American worker. The men and woman that have built the greatest country in the history of world.

August 30, 2019

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