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What if We Didn't Need Labor Day?

More on the Origins of Labor Day

Events in Labor History



Labor Day - More than just a long weekend

So, do you know what Labor Day is? It's your last day of freedom before school starts, right? Well, that's true, and for a lot of people Labor Day represents the last long weekend of summer -- a last chance for barbecuing, swimming, and having fun before buckling down and bundling up.

But Labor Day in the United States - always the first Monday in September -- is an important holiday more than 100 years old. It's important to know its history so that we may honor the struggle of workers and celebrate their contributions to our country.

The first Labor Day wasn't even a three-day weekend. It was held on a Tuesday: September 5, 1882 to be exact. Two labor groups, the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor of New York City, held a protest rally calling for a shorter, eight-hour workday. The "parade," according to U.S. Labor Department figures, drew a whopping 30,000 workers -- every one of whom gave up a day's pay to march. They felt that strongly.

There's disagreement about who came up with the idea for a "Labor Day." A machinist from New Jersey by the name of Matthew Maguire signed the parade invitations, but one Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and co-founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, is generally given the credit. Peter McGuire spoke at the post-parade picnic, but didn't actually help plan the parade. The reason he often gets the credit for Labor Day is a political one.

In the 1890s, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was the dominant labor union, and as such helped to establish the folklore about the origins of the holiday. Samuel Gompers, the founder of the AFL, wanted the AFL to be a non-political organization. Because Matthew Maguire ran as the National Socialist Labor Party's candidate for vice president of the United States in 1896, Gompers decided to give credit for the first Labor Day to Peter McGuire to distance the AFL from Matthew Maguire's political ties.

The first Monday in September became the official Labor Day in 1884, and many states followed with laws adopting this day as an official holiday to honor workers. In 1894, Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday.

So when you're up to your ears in textbooks and homework and start daydreaming of that great barbeque two weeks ago, remember that you have 30,000 hard-working people from 118 years ago to thank for your day off!

The Team


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Anarchy and angry ghosts in the Battle of Homestead
Stephanie - Sweet sugar's evil, mean streak
Teddy - It's hard to say good-bye, but farewell it is
Kevin - Thanks for the memories!
Rebecca - Billy-clubs and bayonets: this ain't no May Day parade
Kevin - The men known as Mollie Maguire
MAD - McNasty Mickey D's