Labor Day in the United States
Labor Day: What it Means
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It was originally organized to celebrate the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being to the United States economy.
Celebrate Labor Day
Labor Day is a day of rest or the last chance for many people to go on trips before the summer ends. For students, it is the last chance to organize parties before school starts again. In some neighborhoods, people organize fireworks displays, barbecues and public arts or sports events.
The American football season starts on or around Labor Day and many teams play their first game of the season during Labor Day weekend.
Labor Day is a federal holiday. All Government offices, schools and organizations and many businesses are closed. Some public celebrations, such as fireworks displays, picnics and barbecues, are organized, but they are usually low key events. As it is the last chance for many people to take summer trips, there may be some congestion on highways and at airports. Public transit systems do not usually operate on their regular timetables.
Labor Day Legislation
The first Labor Day was held in 1882. Its origins stem from the desire of the Central Labor Union to create a holiday for workers. Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation.
The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year, 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 other 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 in the District of Columbia and the territories.
It was originally intended that the day would be filled with a street parade to allow the public to appreciate the work of the trade and labor organizations. After the parade, a festival was to be held to amuse local workers and their families.
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In later years, prominent men and women held speeches. This is less common now, but is sometimes seen in election years. One of the reasons for choosing to celebrate this on the first Monday in September, and not on May 1, which is common in the rest of the world, was to add a holiday in the long gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.
Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder 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 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. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.