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The Labor Day holiday recognizes the achievements of American workers and the contributions made to our country’s prosperity. It is a day set aside in recognition that the United States work environment was shaped by the labor movement. The traditional 40-hour work week, and the eight-hour work day is due to the moments when labor and management worked together to benefit workers nationwide, whether they were union members or not.
In spite of its original, founding intentions, Labor Day carries multiple meanings. Many of us think of cookouts, the end of the summer season, retail sales, great deals, back to school, back to college, camping, parades, picnics and patriotism. Some of these Labor Day associations are fairly close to the mark when we examine the underpinnings of this national holiday.
When did Labor Day Start?
It is a reasonably agreed upon fact that today’s Labor Day holiday had its beginnings during an organized march on the streets of New York City on Tuesday, September 5th, 1882. 5 years after 10,000 workers took to the streets, Labor Day became an officially declared state holiday in Oregon, and then became a national holiday 12 years later.
How did Labor Day Start?
One particularly sterile perspective on the history of Labor Day is that Labor Union leaders wanted to have a gigantic festival to celebrate all those who work, much like the preceding Canadian labor festivals. Although that particular Tuesday in 1882 got off to a slow start with only several hundred people willing to give up a day’s wages, word spread fast that there was a movement afoot, and by day’s end, over 10,000 people joined in and organized a parade called “a day of the people.” This momentum was caused, not by a celebration, but by this nation’s labor movement.
At that time, the average American worker felt estranged from industry owners, and that their opportunities were so limited. Thousands of bricklayers, blacksmiths, railroad workers, and others took a day off to march in support of “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for What We Will,” all expressing the need for reasonable working conditions. This first Labor Day was not about the individual worker, but the collective of American workers whose collaboration changed the way work was done.
Who Started 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.
Many believe that a machinist named Matthew Maguire founded the holiday. Maguire was the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists and said to have proposed the holiday in 1882. Then, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York they adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.
1884 saw the first Monday in September selected as the proposed holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged organizations in other cities to follow New York’s example by celebrating a “workingmen’s holiday.” The idea spread and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
In the 1890s a recession reduced demand for railway cars and the magnate George Pullman laid off workers and reduced remaining worker wages. Workers organized a strike and the American Railway Union refused to handle Pullman cars, hampering commerce in many parts of the country. This was the first nationwide strike and involved over 150,000 workers.
In 1894, 12 years after this first rally, President Grover Cleveland deployed more than 10,000 U.S. Army troops to quell the Chicago Pullman strike. The same day troops were deployed, railroad cars were tipped and set on fire. Troops then opened fire and used their bayonets serving to escalate the violence and causing dozens of deaths. The Illinois Governor at the time, John Altgeld, publicly resented the president’s decision and made a public appeal for the immediate withdrawal of all troops.When President Cleveland signed legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday he was offering reconciliation for those violent events.
Following the official marking of Labor Day, there was a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, making the Sunday preceding Labor Day as “Labor Sunday,” dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement. This day was never deemed an official national holiday.
Why Some People Stop Wearing White
It’s a casual, somewhat antiquated fashion rule that one stops wearing white clothes once Labor Day is over. The origin of this comes from the fact that white is a reflective color and allows us to stay cooler during the sunny summer months. White was also a summer uniform of New Yorkers escaping to their grand summer residences. Once they made a return to the city, the fashion routine was to don darker colored clothing. The middle class expansion of the 1950s the socialites and debutante blue bloods stuck to the “no white” rule as a way to set their class apart.
Where Else is Labor Day Celebrated?
As mentioned above, Canada held “Labour Day” to celebrate the workforce, and Canadians still set aside the first Monday of September as a holiday. Australia and the Bahamas also have Labor Day holidays at different times. And most countries celebrate International Workers’ Day, or May Day, on May 1.
Labor Day 2016
It’s a day off, one of the final days of the summer, and tomorrow the school buses roll. It is rare to consider all that is different because of the earliest labor unions and their actions. Perhaps this is because we don’t hear about the true meaning in detail. The U.S. Department of Labor’s page on the history of Labor Day does not mention the Pullman strike, or validate how American workers fought for better pay, and better hours. Nor is there mention about how those past victories extinguished child labor and gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance.
Remember, tomorrow is the first day of school in many South Shore towns like Hingham. Give yourself extra time if you are commuting, in case you get behind a bus, and be careful of all the children that will be out and about.
Fall is just around the corner and that is an ideal time to start looking for homes in Hingham MA. There is no better Realtor to show you what the South Shore of Massachusetts has to offer than top South Shore real estate agent Alice Pierce. Alice is native to Hingham MA and can talk to you about Hingham’s neighborhoods and their distinctive characteristics, as well as Cohasset, Hull, Scituate, Norwell, Hanover, Marshfield, Duxbury and all of the South Shore towns.
You can also call her cell phone at 781-724-7622 anytime, night or day.