The Men Behind Labor Day and How the First Monday of September Became a National Day – East Idaho News | Directory Mayhem

IDAHO FALLS — Labor Day weekend usually marks the unofficial end of summer.

School is back in class, the soaring summer temperatures are beginning to cool and many are taking advantage of the three-day weekend to book their summer vacation with one last hurray to tide them over until Halloween.

Labor Day falls on the first Monday in September every year and 2022 marks 128 years since it became a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law on June 28, 1894. Most people have since celebrated it without even thinking about it.

Here’s the story of how it became a federal holiday and why we celebrate it.

How Labor Day began and who came up with it

Today, the average person works eight hours a day, five days a week. Most companies have minimum ages and minimum wages, and there are employee benefits such as sick leave, paid time off, and workers’ compensation. All of these things came about with the creation of Labor Day.

At the height of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, History.com worked out that the average American worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to make a living.

“Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of the wages of their adult counterparts,” the website reads.

Low wages and unsafe working conditions led to the formation of unions and strikes to protest poor working conditions, many of which turned violent. A riot in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886 killed several people and police officers. According to reports, someone threw a bomb at the police and several people were killed.

This 1886 engraving was the most widely reproduced image of the Haymarket massacre. | Wikipedia

It’s not entirely clear who came up with the idea for Labor Day, but there are three names that are often associated with it – Peter McGuire, Matthew Maguire and Eugene Debbs.

McGuire grew up in New York City and was the son of Irish immigrants, according to the American Federation of Labor. He helped found the Socialist Democratic Party in 1874 and eight years later, on September 5, 1882, he led a group of 10,000 workers in a New York parade from City Hall to Union Square.

The purpose was to recognize the efforts of American workers. Workers and their families immediately gathered in Reservoir Park for a picnic, concert and speeches, reports America’s Library.

“The date didn’t have any particular significance, and McGuire said it was chosen because it fell about halfway between the July 4th holiday and Thanksgiving,” says Brittanica.com.

Matthew Maguire, a machinist known for his socialist views and one of the organizers of the Central Labor Union in New York, conducted similar strikes in the 1870s. Apparently he sent out the invitations for the parade that McGuire was organizing in New York City.

His grandson, Matthew Feeney, told Jerseyhistory.org Maguire and his wife ” rode in the first carriage at the head of the parade. The Maguires shared the carriage with Henry Ward Beecher, the famous social reformer, abolitionist preacher and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

first working day
Slideplayer.com

The parade received widespread support. According to the Department of Labor, Oregon was the first state to institute a holiday for American workers, in 1887. Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey soon followed, adopting the first Monday of September as an annual holiday.

Over the next 12 years, 23 other states joined the idea. Ultimately, it was the efforts of another radical revolutionary, Eugene V. Debs, who was directly responsible for the creation of federal labor laws to protect workers and for the passage of a bill through the US Congress establishing a national holiday.

Debs organized the Pullman strike in Chicago on May 11, 1894. Wage cuts and the dismissal of union officials from the Pullman Palace Railway Company led to the strike. It called for a boycott of all Pullman railcars, History.com reports.

The protest paralyzed railroads across the country, and the federal government sent military troops to Chicago in response. A series of riots ensued, killing more than a dozen workers.

“The strike shut down the economy and prompted President Cleveland to make Labor Day a national holiday,” reads a PBS.org article.

Regardless of your views on the tumultuous political history behind Labor Day, there is no doubt that its inception forever changed the working conditions of millions of Americans. It remains, as the Labor Department says, an annual day to “recognize the many contributions that workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity and well-being.”

Note: This podcast was first published in 2014.

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