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 constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the prosperity and well-being of our country.
It was hard times in the days of depression that hit the country in the 1880s. It led to widespread wage cuts and unemployment in the traditional pattern of the economic cycle. This was when theKnights of Labor came into being. It was their initiative that Labor Day turned out to be a civic event with parades and meetings.
The First Labor Day Contrary to the present practice the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, l883.
However, it was in l884 when the first Monday in September came to be selected as the holiday, as originally proposed. The Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in l885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
There is a difference of opinion regarding the original founder of the day. Two views, both backed by documentary evidence, are prevalent.
Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the 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.
Irrespective of the dispute over the name of the initiator it is clear that the Labor Day proposal was initiated in the United States by the
Knights of Labor. Accordingly a committee was formed to plan a demonstration and picnic. In 1882 the Knights of Labor held a large parade in New York City. In 1884 the group held a parade on the first Monday of September and passed a resolution to hold all future parades on that day and to designate the day as Labor Day.
However the state recognition of the day was yet to come.
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 them developed the movement 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 2l, l887. 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.
National Labor Day was born off the labor movement during the late 19th century. The Day is a milestone in the history of American labor movement.
Labor Day Celebrations
The founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, once said "Labor Day differs in every essential from the other holidays of the year in any country....All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."
It was in 1884 when Labor Day was first proclaimed to be a federal holiday in the U.S. More than 100 years after, the occassion is going from strength to strength and is still held as the holiday that honours and appreciates the contribution of each worker on whose shoulders the nation rests.
The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday -- a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This set a pattern for the future celebrations of Labor Day.
Traditionally, Labor Day is celebrated in the U.S. on the first Monday in September, a custom that has been followed since the inception of the holiday. It is a day of rest for every American worker. As for public celebrations, Labor Day is observed mostly through parades. Parades are annually organised in places like Manhattan, Brooklyn and Detroit. In many places rallies and political demonstrations are organised which highlight the problems faced by workers and strives to find ways for the betterment of their lives. Speeches by union leaders and political figures in these rallies attempt to create a general awareness about the condition of American labourers.
However, festive celebrations form the main and the most joyous part of Labor Day observances. Be it Detroit or Manchester, working families take part in rallies, march in the parades and even organise picnics with their loved ones. Meat delicacies, especially barbecues, form the main attraction of the Labor Day feasts. For kids and teenagers, it is the last opportunity to have some clean festive fun before schools reopen and they have to go back to their studies.
The labor movement took its root long back in the colonial regime spanning between 1619 and 1776 plus. Initially the social set up was overwhelmingly rural with abundant land. A vast majority of the population of the Eastern US, then called New World, were self employed as independent farmers and artisans, or later in urban retail trade and professions. Then with the shift in agricultural pattern from food crops to cash crops and from local consumption to global sale, demand for labor rose.
To satisfy the demand potential employers turned towards indentured servants and African slaves. The servants and slaves apart skilled craftsmen at first plied their trade independently. But with the growth of urban concentration master workmen set up small retail shops and employed journeymen and apprentices against wage payment. After all, the bustling seaport cities had always needed casual laborers and hired craftsmen. Before 1840s the workers' income was based on price, the remuneration they received for the sale of end product of the labor. The payment of wages came about through introduction of machine into a factory. Around mid 18th century the labor scarcity abated with the growth of population and a curb in the supply of lands. As the fruits of industrial era started to yield people migrated to urban area where manufacturing was booming.
As the erstwhile skills were broken down the competition for these factory jobs increased. On one hand there was trade specialization and developed urban conditions, on the other, the growing fear of unemployment spelled increasing want and discontent. Then with the accumulation of capital by a special class the factory workers lost their independence and also their dignity. This change of status was the basic reason for workers' protests at its earliest form. Evidence of protests with the modern flair was seen as early as 1768 by journeymen tailors. They were joined in by a number of similar organizations later. However, none of them could be termed as labor union.
The 1830s saw the workers demanding social reforms as far as their rights are concerned. In 1827 a Mechanics' Union of Trade Associations came up in Philadelphia. It was the country's first labor organization.
During the 1840s it took a defensive form and changed to a state of uprising as the workers sought to cling to the traditions and methods of the past. The protests acquired a new face as the social reformers of the era soon joined hands with the workers.
However the attitude soon changed. As the workers in the '50s learnt to accept the loss of status they sought to organize around their crafts for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employers.
By the '60s large portions of America had become industrialized with around 5 millions wage earners in industry, commerce and agriculture. Keeping pace with this industrial boom unions too kept flourishing. The depression in the late '60s intensified the employers' resistance to any reduction of working hours. The utility of trade unions became more apparent each day. In 1872 New Yorkers were to unleashed the most formidable labor struggle of the epoch. However the movement eventually failed It was 1882 when the next significant labor stir came. The Knights of Labor under the Central Labor Union held a large parade in New York City on the occasion of the national Knights of Labor conference. In 1884 the group held a parade on the first Monday of September and passed a resolution to hold all future parades on that day and to designate the day as Labor Day.
By the 1890's, when the K of L had all but disappeared, the American Federation of Labor created the 'business union' movement. Although the AFL affiliates encountered vehement employer and judicial opposition, they succeeded in organizing millions of skilled crafts personnel. Courtesy, the able leadership of Samuel Gompers. It soon earned statutory rights to organize for collective bargaining purposes from the federal government. The creation of the industrial union movement through the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the late 1930s led to the organization of mass production industries. Competition between AFL and the affiliates of newly created Committee for Industrial Organization generated significant union growth throughout 1940s and '50s. In mid 1950s with the AFL-CIO merger unions represented approximate 35 per cent non-agricultural labor force. Even though the private sector union participation rate has declined over the recent past public opinion surveys demonstrate that most American workers continue to believe thatemployment interest can be advanced through unionization.