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Why do we Celebrate Labor Day?

August 31, 2019
By Jeryse Kelly

I know, the title of this post may seem weird.  Why do we celebrate Labor Day?  Does anyone know why we have a day off in September?  Be honest, who gets Labor day confused with Memorial day?  To be fair to both holidays, everyone should know and understand the who and why we celebrate Labor Day.  The cause and the people acknowledged are just as important and special as the people we honor for Memorial day.  As a reminder, Memorial day we are acknowledging and remembering the people enlisted in the Armed services who lost their lives while fighting for our country.

The Who, Why and When

Let's take a look at the who, why and when for Labor Day.  First and foremost, Labor day has nothing to do with the military.  It is a holiday to acknowledge and pay respect to the American labor force.  These early workers had to overcome and endure a lot of unfair and unsafe work conditions.  Looking back, we have to remember the Industrial Revolution (1780-1870 ish) and people moving looking for a better life.  People were migrating north from working/slaving/enduring on large farms or plantations for better pay, better accommodations and more importantly better opportunities for their family.  The laborers working in the factories were enduring harsh work conditions; long 12 hour days, working 6 days a week, not having breaks to eat or use the restroom, etc.  These conditions brought in Unions to unite and voice concerns for the laborers.  Unions fought for better working conditions but that also brought strikes (workers not working to prove they were needed but with better humane conditions).

The First Labor Day

The first Labor day march took place in New York on September 5, 1882.  10,000 people marched from City Hall to Union Square.  The Grand Marshall was William McCabe.  At approximately 10 am, 200 men and bands marched down lower Broadway to lower Manhattan, with musicians playing "When I First Put This Uniform On".  The parade ended at Reservoir park with a party continuing on at Wendel's Elm Park.  Soon, other centers in America started acknowledging a "workmen's holiday".  Congress didn't pass legislature until about 1894.  There seems to be some discrepancy as to who initiated the holiday.  Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor or Matthew McGuire a machinist who was the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.  I wonder if they were related?  What is certain is that Grover Cleveland on June 28, 1894 signed a law making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday.

One thing to remember, is that many men, women and even children endured many dangerous and unsafe working conditions so that we can have a 5 or 4 day work week at 40hrs per week.  They have also ensured that we are privileged to have breaks, paid time off and receive vacation pay.  While you are enjoying a BBQ, family gathering or an extended weekend marking the end of summer, please take some time to think about how different life could be if they had not organized and made working life better.

For more information check the History Channel and the US Department of Labor 

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