Labor Day 2020: History of Labor Day
Labor Day is a government holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement as well as the works and contributions of workers to the development and accomplishments of the USA.
Starting in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements expanded, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to commemorate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and also the Knights of Labor, which arranged the first ceremony in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the USA to make it an official public holiday. By the time it came to be an official government holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially commemorated Labor Day.
Canada’s Labor Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September. More than 80 countries commemorate International Workers’ Day on May 1– the ancient European holiday of May Day.
The origins of the federal holiday date back nearly 140 years to 1882 in New York City.
While Labor Day marks the unofficial end to summer with parades, family barbecues and an extended weekend, the origins of the holiday have a deep past rooted in unsafe labor conditions and unions.
The origins date back nearly 140 years to 1882 in New York City. At the time, urban development and industry were thriving with steam power revolutionizing transportation and efficiency. Electric light bulbs were relatively new, lighting city streets and factories.
Even as the country reached new levels of innovation, working conditions for many of America’s working class consisted of 12-hour workdays, uncontrolled climate conditions, no wage or workplace protections, no child labor laws and numerous other safety hazards.
These conditions led workers to band together to form labor unions, a group of individuals with unified requests and messages to improve working conditions for all.
This movement eventually led to the first child labor laws in the country, wage protection and public health laws.
The unions that did form largely helped white working men and were segregated from Black workers who unionized. For Black workers, they dealt with an added challenge of fighting racism when looking to change their own labor rights.
Some unions were quite vocal and had their events turn violent when trying to get their messages across. One of the largest events was on September 5, 1882, when 10,000 New York workers took paid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square. This became the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.
The idea of having a workers holiday on the first Monday of September caught on across the country and eventually became a federal holiday in 1894. President Grover Cleveland marked the day to honor the achievements and contributions of U.S. workers.