Each year, the end of summer is signified by the celebration of the Labor Day holiday on the first Monday in September. For most of us, this day is simply a day off from work and a great excuse to have a backyard barbeque. However, many people are not aware of the origins of this holiday and what it truly represents. So why do we celebrate Labor Day?
The holiday originated in 1882 as a result of the labor movement and was intended to be a day of rest to recognize the efforts of the average working man. While there is some disagreement as to who first proposed the idea of Labor Day, many historians typically credit a man named Peter J. McGuire – who was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor – as the man who first advocated for the holiday’s creation.
However, other historians in recent years have pointed to a machinist named Matthew Maguire as the man responsible for developing the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. Regardless of the discrepancy as to who deserves the credit, it was ultimately the Central Labor Union that adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to organize an official celebration on September 5, 1882 in New York City.
The first Monday in September was designated as the holiday because the day occurred halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. This idea became popular with various labor unions and local governments around the country, and municipalities gradually came to adopt Labor Day as an official holiday before the notion gained popular support and developed into a national holiday.
The recognition of Labor Day as a national holiday for the working man came about as a result of a law signed by President Grover Cleveland. Although Cleveland was not a significant labor union supporter himself, he found the legislation enacting Labor Day as a national holiday to be a symbolic remedy for political damage he had suffered earlier that same year. During this time, he used federal troops to thwart an American Railway Union strike in Chicago, and as a result, 34 railroad workers were killed.
Labor Day was originally celebrated with large public demonstrations of workers banding together, usually in the form of rallies and parades in the streets. However, these large parades became impractical over the years as industrial centers developed. Regardless, the holiday is generally accepted with pride in recognition of the contributions that workers throughout America and Canada have made to the overall prosperity of the North American continent.
As these nations have industrialized, the efforts of laborers have made a huge impact in creating the highest standard of living among the citizenry of anywhere in the world. However, the general expression of Labor Day has expanded in recent years to include not only traditional factory workers, but government workers, educators and other working people who have all contributed to the success of the nations they represent.