The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, but it took a one-day strike so people could escape work to celebrate to make it happen. At an 1882 meeting of the New York Central Labor Union, Peter J. McGuire in fighting for an eight-hour workday called for workers to come together on the first Monday in September to celebrate in the streets, and more than 30,000 workers did so. A similar celebration took place again the following year and by 1885, the commemoration had spread to many industrial centers across the United States. The first state bill to officially honor workers was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During 1887 four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1884, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
Seventy-hour workweeks for manufacturing workers were common in the 1830s, and while by 1890 hours of work had dropped, working in a factory for 60 hours per week was still standard. Union organizers focused on gaining shorter workdays and more time off, and it’s these dedicated, fierce organizers we thank for the improvements in work schedules and time off that we experience today.
“The “father” of Labor Day and of May Day, as well as the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Peter J. McGuire was one of the most remarkable figures in the history of the American labor movement. McGuire probably did more than anyone else to convince skeptical, locally minded union activists around the country that a national labor federation was not only necessary but also possible. Without his tireless enthusiasm and practical example, the creation of the AFL and its survival through its early years are practically inconceivable.” (AFL-CIO)
“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
To our Carpenters’ members, we wish you a safe, enjoyable Labor Day 2018 with your family and friends. Let’s all take a moment to think about and thank those who came before us…those who toiled, organized and fought for the working conditions, fair wages and workplace benefits we enjoy today.
* (Photo, top): Illustration of the first American Labor parade held in New York City on September 5, 1882 as it appeared in Frank Leslie’s Weekly Illustrated Newspaper’s September 16, 1882, issue.