Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was created by the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It’s a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the country.Conditions for workers in the 1800s were oppressive. Child labor and long hours were common. For example, children employed in the silk mills in Paterson, N.J., went on strike for the 11 hour day/six day week in 1835.
In 1877, a general strike halted the movement of U.S. railroads. In the following days, strike riots spread across the United States. The next week, federal troops were called out to force an end to the nationwide strike. At the "Battle of the Viaduct" in Chicago, federal troops killed 30 workers and wounded more than 100.
In 1882, the Central Labor Union of New York adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. About 30,000 workers marched. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day event a year later, on Sept. 5, 1883.
In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged labor organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a workingmen's holiday on that date. in 1885, Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
During this era hundreds of thousands of American workers joined unions to work for the eight-hour day and other worker rights. Strikes were common. In some cities, police and the militia were called out to break strikes or quell riots. See "An Eclectic List of Events in U.S. Labor History" for more information.
A national holiday
The first governmental recognition of Labor Day came
through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them
developed the movement to secure state legislation.
By 1894, 31 states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.For decades, the battle for workers' rights continued and parades and events were held on Labor Day, especially in large industrial centers.
Today, with the decline of the labor movement, gatherings are smaller. Many people see Labor Day as a day off, a time to mark the end of summer, and the beginning of the school year for students.
Ways to celebrate Labor Day
The AFL-CIO suggests that workers fight for policies to put America to work immediately, build a middle-class economy, restore job quality and quality of life, and protect Main Street not Wall Street.
Other ideas include:
- Go to the Labor Day picnic or event in your community.
- Work for candidates for public office who support labor positions.
- Reflect on your working years and write about your favorite job.
- Do an Internet search on the history of labor in the United States.
- Interview a retired worker who was a union member.
- Buy union-made products.
- Walk through your neighborhood and talk with your children about the kinds of work people do.
- Help your child make a career book about the kind of work he or she may do in the future.
Whatever your activities on Labor Day, I hope you have a great day.