Labor Day and Meaning?

Millions of Americans will be celebrating Labor Day on Sept. 5, a day that marks the unofficial end of summer. It’s celebrated with parades, parties and – of course – barbecues.But why do we celebrate Labor Day and what is its history? Here’s some information from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Always the first Monday in September, the Labor Day holiday is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American workers.”It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” the Labor Department said in its history of the holiday.

History of Labor Day

Labor Day was first created by the labor movement in the 19th century and was marked by cities and towns before becoming a federal holiday in 1894.The day came about as massive changes were underway in American manufacturing. During the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s, there were few restrictions on the treatment of workers and many people worked 12-hour days and seven days a week. Children – some as young as 5 – worked in factories and no one was guaranteed a minimum wage. Working conditions were often unsafe and there was no recourse for employees.

It was during this time that labor unions – groups formed to represent workers – grew in prominence. The unions organized strikes and rallies to protest poor working conditions and pay and, on Sept. 5, 1882, 10,000 workers in New York took time off without pay to participate in what’s believed to be the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.The idea of celebrating American labor spread and states began passing legislation for similar holidays.

Then, on May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike and union officials called for a boycott of the railway cars. Federal officials dispatched troops to Chicago, where the two groups clashed and more than a dozen workers were killed.

In the wake of the massacre, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year Labor Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. It was approved on June 28, 1894. All states later made the day an official holiday, with state, federal and most city and county offices closed.

Who founded Labor Day? No one really knows who first suggested a day to celebrate American labor.

Some believe it was Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor. Others think it was Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, who founded the holiday. Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., reportedly proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

“The problem with declaring a single “founder” of Labor Day is that, at the time, no one realized that a new national holiday was being born. It was only after the fact that people tried to pinpoint a single founding father,” said Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department of Labor’s historian. “So the historical conundrum seems to hinge on the fact that the two names sound alike and were probably mixed up in the common consciousness. Toss in the years of bitter rivalry between the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor and, of course, you’re going to have multiple heroes emerging in the legend of Labor Day.”

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