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The History Of Labor Day In America
What are your plans for Labor Day? When you think of Labor Day, what comes to mind? It’s a weekend with picnics, barbeques, fireworks, parades, and possibly a music festival. For many, it’s the end of summer and the last long weekend before school starts. It’s the start of the fall and anticipation of football. Enjoy the day off, but don’t forget the reason, it was originally adopted giving us a reason to celebrate.
Labor Day 2019 is Monday, September 2nd. Labor Day pays tribute to the American worker whose contributions and achievements have made this nation strong, free, and a leader to the world. The American worker has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy.
Years of hard-fought battles and ensuing legislation resulted in many of the most basic benefits we enjoy at our jobs today.
Origins of Labor Day
There is disagreement over how the holiday began. One version is set in September
1882 with the Knights of Labor, the largest and one of the most important American
labor organizations at the time. The Knights in New York City held a public parade
featuring various labor organizations on September 5 — with the aid of the fledgling
Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York. Subsequently, CLU Secretary Matthew
Maguire proposed that a national Labor Day holiday be held on the first Monday of each
September to mark this successful public demonstration.
In another version, Labor Day in September was proposed by Peter J. McGuire, a vice
president of the American Federation of Labor. In Spring 1892, McGuire reportedly
proposed a “general holiday for the laboring classes” to the CLU, which would begin
with a street parade of organized labor solidarity and would end with a picnic fundraiser for local unions. McGuire suggested the first Monday in September as an ideal date for
Labor Day. Oregon became the first U.S. state to make it an official public holiday.
Twenty-nine other states had joined by the time the federal government declared in a
Federal holiday in 1894.
In the late 1800’s the average American worker worked 12-hour and seven-day weeks in order to eke a basic living. Tens of thousands of workers protested in cities across the US demanding an 8-hour workday. On May 4, 1886, Chicago police attacked both of these peaceful protests. Several policemen and workers were killed.
The Pullman Strike
Ironically, Chicago was also the setting of the bloody Pullman strike of 1894. On May 11, 1894, in the town of Pullman, conditions ultimately led workers to strike. The walk-out gained support of the nationwide American Railroad Union (ARU). ARU declared members would no longer work on trains that included Pullman cars. The boycott brought the railroads west of Chicago to a standstill and led 125,000 workers across 29 railroad companies to quit their jobs rather than break the boycott.
The Railroad Boycott
When the Chicago railroad companies hired strikebreakers as replacements, strikers also took various actions to stop the trains. The General Managers Association, which represented local railroad companies, countered by inducing U.S. Attorney General Richard Olney, a former railroad attorney, to intervene. Indianapolis federal courts granted Olney an injunction against the strike. This move that allowed President Grover Cleveland to send in federal troops to break up the railroad boycott.
A few days later, Cleveland realized that he had to act quickly to appease the country’s increasingly agitated labor movement. But he didn’t want to commemorate the Haymarket incident with a May holiday that would invoke radical worker sentiment. So Cleveland harkened back to the first established September 1882 holiday and signed into law that Labor Day in the US would be celebrated on the first Monday in September.
Whatever your plans this Labor Day, enjoy your day off! Remember it’s important to take time-off. Without a work-life balance, you’ll burn out making business more difficult than it should be.
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