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Labor Day: How Did it Get Started?

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882.

Today is Labor Day, a national holiday.

Here a look by the U.S. Department of Labor on how Labor Day got started:

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 strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was 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. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

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, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and 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 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

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 21, 1887. 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.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

Teleman September 04, 2012 at 12:42 AM
I am in a private sector union, I think they spent too many years defending useless workers and resisting change. My particular union aligned itself with the occupy movement and the public sector unions- I think these association further degraded their worth.
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 12:52 AM
John Taggart, don't dish out criticism if you can't receive it. You call me a scab and a back stabber (absurd) and now you invite me to your neighborhood to meet you and your neighbors. Sorry, but with friends like you I don't need enemies. I really don't care about your spelling. No one has ever accused me of being a genius. I don't envy your situation but how is it my fault? How is it the fault of the Rockland police officers that you rant against? And you say this as a son of retired NYPD officer? Very decent of you. Enlighten me. I still say to you that I have never, ever observed a illegal immigrant holding a valid union card. Mr. Tuckahoe,NY
John Taggart September 04, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Yea I would think " occupy ' tried to shut down office buildings which pay union workers to do all their supplying and maintenance and repairs. Go the occupy way and have nothing and eat dirt,.....Unkess your a drug dealer than you eat pizza
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Jenga, if you find it so.....offensive and distasteful to be in a union then quit and find another job. If someone forcing you to remain in your union. I had guys like you in my union too. Chances are you offer nothing to your union. Only when you need something, right? I am certain that your association with your union degrades the worth of your union. In fact I would bet on it. Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe,NY
Teleman September 04, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Well, unfortunately, where i work, it is a condition of employment that you must join the union. If you don't, then you must still pay union dues. It's funny, I know my job very well and am good at it, I put in 110% everyday- and you know what? The only thing I use the union for is to negotiate my salary and benefits- It's the screwoffs that don't work, are lazy, don't know their jobs that always seem to get into trouble and need the union on a daily basis. When I see the union associating with occupy wall street morons? they lose credibility- why do you think the Wisconsin recall was such a disasterous failure? Becuase most of the public sees it too.
Teleman September 04, 2012 at 01:19 AM
i understand why they are doing it- it's about numbers- that's what it's all about for unions- numbers equal money and power, especially for those at the top. Many of these public and private sector unions bosses are one percenters themselves ironically enough. As I said, I am not anti-private sector union- I truly believe there needs to be a foil against management to keep things reasonable, but the unions are way in the other extreme.
Teleman September 04, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Also, I would love to find another job, but with real unemployment at like 15%, that would be tough- If Romney/Ryan get in and IF the economy improves, I just might have a chance of starting my own business, and being one of those risk takers who create jobs- but Bama has declared war on those, so I'm gonna wait it out for now.
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Jenga, have you been to a OWS rally. I mean physically present. Not what you observe on CNN or Fox. My wife and I have been to two. You know what I observed; most of the demonstrators were college educated youngsters saddled with student loan debt and no job prospects. Or union tradesmen/women wanting jobs (that's for you Taggart). Or citizens begging for health care. Yes, there was also the lunatic fringe but when thousands gather in a small location I am sure that a tea party rally would also have its share of the lunatic fringe. So have you been to a OWS rally or are you basing your opinion on someone else's observation? Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe, NY
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Jenga, of course!!! The POTUS has DECLARED WAR on business. He has also DECLARED WAR on liberty and freedom. My goodness, at least try to be original. JM
Teleman September 04, 2012 at 01:46 AM
It's a fact that he has attacked business people un-endingly, ( I've never worked for a poor man, or the government) as far a liberty and freedom, i'd have to agree with you on that too, I mean he actually has kill lists with the names of american citizens on them, bamacare gives the government acceess to citizens health records, tsa routinely violates civil rights, and we have the military conducting "training" excercises in several big cities.
Teleman September 04, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Talk to business people, I have, many are dying, they are getting killed with taxes and the uncertainty of bamcare has many of them considering layoffs.
John Taggart September 04, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Meyer I never ranted about my local police its just that municipal and private unions are very different animals and for a municipal union to lobby for raises durring a horrible economic time rather than just stay the course is a heartless thing to do and el presidente' is all in when other workers are all out. and if you can't figure out what being undercut by cheap, uneducated, undocumented labor is ... well whats the point... I'm talking to a person who has already been taken care of...you got yours, I have to fight for mine thanks for directing me under the bus...scab
Teleman September 04, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Why would citzens "beg" for healthcare at an occupy rally? I have sat many a lunchtime watching what are most likely illegal immigrant criminals bringing themselves and their children into the open door medical clinic- they all look quite healthy, are dressed well, drive pretty nice cars, but mostly SUV's, and always seem to have nice new iphones-
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Taggart, you are a sad and pathetic person. You blame everyone for your misery. Of course it is my fault that you are unemployed.Of course I am personally responsible. It is also the fault of the Rockland police officers that you don't work! Or is it the fault of all of those darn immigrants who steal your work? Which one is it Taggart? Make up your mind. You are right about the fact that I did get my pension. That is because I worked for it and I earned it. Perhaps you should learn from that instead of whining like a child and blaming the entire world for your misfortunes! Grow up loafer! Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe,NY
sayitsnotsojack September 04, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Jenga you are so correct on the union thing, unions have bullied, pushed their way and have did more to diminish the middle class than any other factor. Unions only care for themselves, all one has to look at is the great success in the Right To Work States, they are thriving. I would bet if any of those occupy wall street people were asked if they wanted one of the jobs in the wall streets firms they bash so much you could not get out of the their way fast enough as they ran into the building. Talk about hypocrites.
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Jack, you are so misguided. Unions built the middle class. You say that unions care only for themselves. Is that some kind of epiphany? Who are unions suppose to care for? Yes it is wonderful to work in a right to work state. Minimum wage, no health care or pension or job protection. That is really something to commend, isn't it? Why are unions hypocrites? Because we take care of our own and look out for our own? Since you are so envious of the right to work states perhaps you should move to one. I am certain that WalMart would love to hire you. Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe,nY
Walt September 04, 2012 at 11:03 AM
Yes Jeff you're correct, unions are self serving while everyone else is asked (actually mandated) to do "their fair share". Thanks for your honesty.
John Taggart September 04, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Drones over head looking at us as well
sayitsnotsojack September 04, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Jeff while your union is taking care of its own the rest of us have to pay unreasonable prices, high taxes, and endure poor service because your unions protect the dead beats. Your unions have caused more people to lose their jobs than any company that is trying to stay in business. How about looking out for the other person who is not in your socialistic union.
John Taggart September 04, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Your reading comprehention is awfull. I never blamed the police, I said Municipal workers unions demanding raises during horrible economic times when the people who have to pay for the increase are having a hard time is heartless. I used the police as an example for you, and because Obama always says he wants to fund more cops but never gives construction workers the same attention (nice try, trying to make me look anti police in your posts). So I do blame Obama for lying about funding shovel ready jobs, environmentalists who are against everything, and democrats who give sanctuary to illegal replacement workers for weakining unions. Not to mention Obamas banking policies and scaring business into a hole with a new health system and 1 trillion in new taxes next year. I'm not misreable at all I saved in good times so I could survive the bad but I do blame some people and their policies for it being so bad, a trillion in stimulis, the banks got far richer and unemployment among trades doubled. If you back those policies than why not blame you?
SRT September 04, 2012 at 11:38 AM
And how do you know those people entering the clinics are "illegal"? Did you ask them for their papers, or are you just relying on your biases?
Ann Fanizzi September 04, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Am reading some of the unnecessarily acrimonious posts which unfortunately demonstrate what has happened - workers tearing each other apart. Public employees by and large protected by unions fighting the diminishing numbers of workers in manufacturing, mining, service industries, etc and resentment gathering on both sides. What they don't realize is that instead of fighting each other for the crumbs, their enemy is corporate greed who is squeezing the last drop of profits from so-called labor costs i.e.wages, health and pension benefits to fund CEO's indecent salaries, perks, benefits. There is no doubt that all workers - union and non-union - have been the beneficiaries of unions; however, as in all organizations, times change and as I tried to say a couple of days ago, unions have not changed to meet the new reality. The question is: can the industrial model of unionism fit today's informational, service economy?
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Taggart, My reading comprehension is fine. At the very least it is much better then your spelling. You make absurd assertions then you back track. Your comments speak for themselves. Whatever! Good luck finding a job. Perhaps the new T/Z bridge. Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe,NY
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 02:52 PM
You're welcome Walt. Unions will take care of their own. If you wish to put your trust in Mr. Romney/Ryan/Koch then good luck. I hope it works out for you. JM Tuckahoe,NY
jeff meyer September 04, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Jack, my understanding of a union is that it is a labor organization that serves the purpose of protecting the rights of the worker from abuse and enhancing the quality of life of the worker. If you view that as socialism then you do not understand socialism. Your hatred and motivates regarding unions are evident. So what, that is your right. The right to unionize is legal and the law of the land so accept it. It will only be a matter of time before these workers in right to work states who are being exploited organize and unionize. Unions are needed now more then ever. JM Tuckahoe,nY
Andromachos September 05, 2012 at 12:36 PM
So, Jenga believes that the union leadership of his union needs to prioritize its efforts differently. That, with nothing more according to Mr. Meyer, shows that Jenga finds it offensive and distasteful to be a union member. Really it only illustrates Mr. Meyer's total inability to handle any disagreement with the idea that unions are perfect. In reality, unions are run by people. People want power and money and want to exercise their power and spend the money for their own benefit. Protecting objectively lousy employees, is just a way for union to flex its muscles to management with no concern for the workers or the customers of the businesses that both unions and management work for. This is completely different and apart from protecting adequate workers from subjective complaints, false accused or discrimination by a manager who simply does not like the worker.
jeff meyer September 05, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Andro, I have never, ever stated that unions are perfect so please be accurate. What I have stated is that they are NECESSARY for the worker. Quite a difference. Jenga habitually rants against unions. That is his right. I find it more then ironic that he is represented by a union. As I have stated no one is forcing him to work a unionized job. Furthermore, like Jenga, you feel the need to focus on the protection of what you deem the lousy worker. Who makes such a determination? You Andro? Due process in the work place is a vital function that a union provides. Jeff Meyer Tuckahoe,NY
Andromachos September 05, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Ann - I am not an economist, but it seems that perhaps the friction is not solely the nature of the work (manufacturing v info economy) but the "shrinking" of the globe, partly related to the ease of communication. When it is so much cheaper to make everything from a $50,000 car to a 10 cent toy in another country, and when it is cheaper to hire service workers, everything from typists to sales to customer service because the wages, regulations etc. are less onerous there than they are here, we here have a big problem. Also, forcing them to be here, by government regulation and taxes, is not a solution. Your $50,000 car becomes $75,000. Your 10 cent toy becomes 15 cents and businesses can no longer afford customer service, have less typists and sales people because they can not afford to employ them. A problem similar to inflation but without the benefit of eliminating long term debt in the system.
Ann Fanizzi September 06, 2012 at 08:45 AM
Globalization has both exposed structural problems in our system and introduced variables in our economy which band-aids are not going to fix. We indeed live in challenging times.
Francis T McVetty September 08, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Ann and unfortunately we had NO leader for those four years. You can't lead form behind. Now the new theme is forward. What over a cliff?

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