Wow, it’s the first Monday in September already. Where has this year gone?

Labor Day

Labor Day is set aside each year to honor the social and economic achievements of American Workers. In the past 200 years American workers have completely changed the world. They changed the way we work, changed the way we’re paid, and effected labor laws and regulations, not just in the US, but also around the world.

Whose Idea Was It?

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day the question of who was the originator of the idea is still in some doubt. Two men, with very similar names, are most commonly given credit. Peter J. McGuire was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the AFL (American Federation of Labor). He suggested a day to honor “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

Others believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists, came up with the idea while serving as Secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882. The Central Labor Union did adopt a Labor Day Proposal and appointed the first committee to plan a demonstration and picnic to honor workers.

Labor Day History

Labor Day began in the states. Municipal ordinances were passed in 1885 and 1886. These then moved on to state legislatures in New York and Oregon. The first state Labor Day law was passed in Oregon on February 21, 1887. That same year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York joined the movement.

Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania came next and by 1894 twenty-three other states had passed legislation to establish Labor Days in their respective states. On June 28 Congress passed the current act that makes the first Monday in September a legal federal holiday in all states, territories and the District of Columbia.

A Little Labor Day Trivia

  • The very first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City.
  • Canada also celebrates Labor Day along with the United States.
  • Number of workers taking an unpaid holiday to march in the first Labor Day Parade? — 10,000.
  • The AFL declared that the Sunday before Labor Day should be designated Labor Sunday to promote the spiritual and educational ideas of the labor movement.
  • During the Labor Day movement many Americans were working 16-hour days in poor working conditions.
  • Labor Day often marks the end of summer. Schools open, swimming pools close.
  • For women, wearing white after Labor Day, was a fashion faux pas.
  • In some other countries workers are honored during a May Day celebration.
  • The first Labor Day parade took place on a Tuesday, not a Monday.
  • Workers were protesting the adoption of the eight-hour workday and better working conditions during the first Labor Day rally.
  • The Knights of Labor is responsible for organizing the first Labor Day demonstration.
  • Although a vocal opponent of organized labor, President Grover Cleveland pushed Labor Day through Congress very quickly to prevent riots and strikes that were breaking out across the country.
  • Detroit was the center of the labor movement with workers demanding their days be shortened to 10 hours and their pay increased to an unprecedented $2.00 a day.  ($5,200 per year.)

Some Final Thoughts

Labor Day is usually thought of as a celebration of the advances in working conditions, benefits and salaries demanded by labor unions. I have no problem with that and their efforts over the years are to be commended. Because of the labor movement we have Wage & Hour Laws, OSHA, anti-discrimination laws and more that have greatly improved working conditions and also strengthened and advanced the American economy as the envy of the world.

But we also need to remember that there were many more people who were not union members that also made vast improvements in how we work and process goods and services. These people should also be honored equally with the rank and file union member.

We are all in this together and we are all constantly striving to do better. Although some will disagree with me, the day of the robber barons is over. Business can’t prosper if workers don’t. It’s a win-win for both and the battle to reach this point was certainly worth it. Make sure you tell a worker they are doing a good job tomorrow morning. After all, without them your dreams don’t come true.

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