Labor Day – The History and Meaning Behind this National Holiday

Bigstock/LoveGraphic

Bigstock/LoveGraphic

Labor Day, the first Monday of September, is typically associated with the end of the summer season, one last long weekend for BBQ’s.  But do you know what this national holiday actually means or know the history behind this celebration?

Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century.  It began as an parade in New York City organized by union leaders.  At first the leaders worried that workers were hesitant to forego a day’s pay to participate in the rally, but over 10,000 people had taken part in the rally and festivities. 

Holding annual festivities to celebrate workers spread across the country.  However, Labor Day didn’t become a national holiday until a decade later. In 1887, Oregon was the first state to declare it a holiday, followed by New York, Massachusetts and Colorado.  In 1896, President Grover Cleveland declared the first Monday in September a national holiday.

Why a Monday?  One of the most influential labor unions was the Knights of Labor which is located in New York. The union leaders wanted the first demonstration to coincide with their annual conference which took place in early September.  The first Monday of September stuck after the third annual New York City Labor Day was scheduled on this day in 1884.

Did you know that there is a Labor Day and a May Day (International Workers’ Day)?  Both days are celebrated, but Labor Day is the official national holiday and May Day is unofficially celebrated on May 1.  International Workers’ Day arose out of what began as a peaceful demonstration in Chicago by protesters demanding an 8-hour work day. The demonstration turned violent when someone threw a bomb at the police killing one police officer and wounding several others. The police then began to fire into the crowd killing an undetermined number of people. This incident is known as the Haymarket Affair.  This event caused a crack down on labor groups.  Due to the violence associated with this day, President Grover Cleveland chose the September date to honor the American worker when declaring the national holiday.

Labor Day does have quite a storied past, therefore it is not just ANY day off from work. It is a day to honor the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is a tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.  

Why is it important to know the history of Labor Day?  Sometimes, we just need a reminder of the benefits and rights that our fellow Americans fought for in the past for us and for future generations.  As a staffing company in the business of workers for 50 years, we feel this is of great importance!

Happy Labor Day!

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