Saturday, August 30, 2014

History Of Labor Day Holiday

The Labor Day holiday in the U.S. is celebrated on the first Monday in September.  This is the same day that Canada celebrates their Labor Day holiday.  This year, Labor Day falls on September 1, 2014.  Next year, with September starting on Tuesday, Labor Day gets pushed to September 7, 2015.

The history of Labor Day in the U.S. goes back to the labor movement of the late 1800s and became an official federal holiday in 1894, celebrated with parties, parades and athletic events.  Prior to 1894, workers who wanted to participate in Labor Day parades would forfeit a day's pay.

Over the ensuing decades, Labor Day has come to symbolize something else, too.  In defiance of the Summer Solstice in June (21st/22nd) and Autumnal Equinox in September (21st/22nd) signaling the beginning and ending of the summer season, Labor Day has become the unofficial end of the summer season that unofficially started on Memorial Day weekend (the fourth Monday in May in the U.S.).  I have to admit that this year's September 1st Labor Day seems too early to call an end to summer.  After all, the day before was still August.  And the high temperatures certainly feel like summer is still with us.  :)

What led up to the creation of a holiday specifically designated to honor and celebrate the workers and their accomplishments?  The seeds were planted in the 1880s at the height of America's Industrial Revolution when the average American worked 12 hour days/7 days a week in order to manage a basic living.  Although some states had restrictions, these workers included children as young as 5 years old who labored in the mills, factories and mines earning a fraction of the money paid to the adults in the same workplace.  Workers of all ages were subjected to extremely unsafe working conditions in addition to insufficient access to fresh air and sanitary facilities.

Labor Unions had first appeared in the late 1700s.  As America changed from an agrarian society into an industrial one, these labor unions became more vocal and began to organize rallies and strikes in protest of poor working conditions and low wages.  Many of these events turned violent.  One prominent such incident was the Haymarket Riot of 1886 where several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Other rallies were of a more positive nature such as September 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off from their jobs and held the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history when they marched from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.

It was another 12 years before Congress legalized the holiday.  This was primarily brought about on May 11, 1894, when employees at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.  Then on June 26, the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars thus crippling railroad traffic nationwide.  To break the strike, the government sent troops to Chicago.  The resulting riots resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.  As a result, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in all states, the District of Columbia and the territories (which later became states).

And now, more than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day still hasn't been identified.

So, for everyone enjoying the 3 day holiday weekend, now you know why you have that additional day.  And why the banks are closed and you don't have any mail delivery.  :)


JoAnne Myers said...

A very interesting article Shawna. Labor laws were horrible decades ago, and probable still are in 3rd world countries. I think its horrible to have to work 12 hours a day to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. That does not sound like a land of milk and honey as the bible preaches. The economy is so expensive, people work themselves to the bone to make ends meet. Its a darn shame governments allow that to go on.

Shawna Delacorte said...

JoAnne: I'm not sure there were any labor laws at all back then. Most factory working conditions were horrendous.

Thanks for commenting.