Labor Day is denigrated by some as a commercialized version of a Communist holiday. Those that say this are, of course, at liberty to make this claim but, should they actually look at the facts, will find that they are correct only about labor Day being much more commercial these days.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 19th Century worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced. With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union when 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Participants took an unpaid day off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday in New York City just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected by the Central Labor Union as the day each year that they would celebrate from then on and they urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingman’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

As years passed more cities and states permitted labor organizations to hold celebrations. In 1887, the first states declared it a state holiday. These were Oregon, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers.

Pullman Workers Strike

On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. They sought support from their union, the American Railway Union led by Eugene V. Debs, and on June 26 the union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Within days, 50,000 rail workers complied and railroad traffic out of Chicago came to a halt. On July 4, President Grover Cleveland dispatched troops to Chicago. Much rioting and bloodshed ensued, but government action broke the strike and the boycott soon collapsed. Debs and three other union officials were jailed for interfering with the U.S. Mails, presenting a threat to public safety and disobeying a Federal injunction to cease all strike activities.

The strike brought worker’s rights to the public eye and on June 28 of 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Communists and Socialists the world over have held similar celebrations of the working class every May 1st. This date eventually became known as May Day. It is because of this that, in the U.S., the first Monday in September was selected. So to prevent any identification with Communism and Socialism.

More than a Century after the first Labor Day observance there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some historical records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire‘s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many historians believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

New York Labor Day Parade – 1918

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday. It was to be “a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit-de-corps of the trade and labor organizations of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families”. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone changes over the years. Today Labor Day is often regarded as a day of rest. And parades, speeches or political demonstrations are more low-key although, especially in election years, events held by labor organizations often feature political themes and appearances by candidates for office.

A Labor Day Backyard Barbecue.

Celebrations include picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, water sports, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer. Some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school.

A few of the more notable Labor Day events enjoyed by Americans are:

  • Mackinac Bridge Walk is an annual event that has been held in Northern Michigan every Labor Day since 1958.
  • Taste of Polonia is, since 1979, a Labor Day celebration of Polish cultural heritage, traditions, and customs held on the grounds of the Copernicus Foundation in Jefferson Park in Chicago, IL.
  • Bumbershoot is a music and arts festival that has been a Labor Day staple in Seattle, Washington, since 1970.
  • NASCAR‘s Pepsi 500 on Labor Day weekend at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.
  • Front Porch Fest is an annual event that has been held in South Western Virginia every Labor Day.

So enjoy your Liberties this Labor Day. And to those who still claim it is Communist I say “enjoy a burger, a beer, and your ignorance”.