Labor Day fun facts
Labor Day – a Canadian import?
In the United States, we tend to think of Labor Day as a thoroughly American holiday, but Labor Day actually has its roots in Canada. The movement to shorten the average workday from 12 hours to nine started in Hamilton, Ontario, but quickly spread to Toronto, where it became a central demand of the Toronto Printer’s Union. When the proposal was firmly rejected by employers, the printers went on strike on March 25, 1872, and on April 15 a group of 2,000 workers, led by two marching bands, marched through the city streets to show their solidarity with the strikers. By the time the parade reached Queen’s Park, the crowd had grown to 10,000 or more.
When did Labor Day become a national holiday?
On June 28, 1894, Congress passed a bill that designated the first Monday in September as an annual federal holiday to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers and their contributions to the strength and prosperity of the nation.
Why did Congress create Labor Day?
The labor movement had gained momentum and become increasingly influential in national politics when, on May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. On June 26, Eugene V. Debs, leader of the American Railroad Union, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. After the boycott crippled rail transportation nationwide, the federal government sent troops to Chicago to break the strike, which led to a series of riots that caused the deaths of more than a dozen workers. By making Labor Day a legal holiday, Congress hoped to regain the support of American workers.
Who was President on the first Labor Day?
Grover Cleveland, who was both the 22nd and 24th president of the United States and the only U.S. president to serve to non-consecutive terms in office, signed the bill that made Labor Day a legal holiday for federal employees in the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories and, effectively, for American workers nationwide.
Which state first recognized Labor Day?
On February 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday. Later that year, four more states—Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York—passed legislation to create a Labor Day holiday. By the end of the decade, Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania also chose to honor workers with a special day. And by 1894, when Congress passed a bill making Labor Day a federal holiday, 23 other states had already adopted Labor Day legislation.
When was the first U.S. Labor Day parade?
Parades were a big part of early Labor Day celebrations, and many U.S. communities still hold parades on Labor Day every year. The first Labor Day parade was on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, but it was actually a protest march for safer working conditions, shorter hours and better wages for workers. Ten thousand workers gave up a day’s pay to take part in that first Labor Day parade, marching from City Hall to Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue—the largest park in New York at that time—where they picnicked, enjoyed a concert and listened to speeches by union leaders. Later that evening, even more people came to the park to watch fireworks and dance.
Whose idea was Labor Day?
Peter McGuire, who founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and co-founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) with the legendary Samuel Gompers, is often credited as the “Father of Labor Day.” But new evidence suggests that the idea may have come from a different labor leader with a similar name. Matthew Maguire was an important figure in the Central Labor Union of New York and led several strikes to improve working conditions. According to the New Jersey Historical Society and the U.S. Department of Labor, shortly after President Cleveland created Labor Day with his signature, The Paterson (N.J.) Morning Call published an editorial that called Maguire “the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.” Gompers and Peter McGuire were friends, however, and Gompers considered Matthew Maguire a radical. So in an 1897 interview, Gompers gave McGuire the credit for suggesting the Labor Day holiday.
Labor Day and labor unions
The labor movement gave birth to Labor Day, and labor unions remained an important part of the holiday for decades after it was created. Labor union membership reached its peak during the 1950s, when approximately 40 percent of private-sector workers, and a significant number of government workers, belonged to labor unions, but union membership has declined sharply in recent years. In 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership fell to 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers nationwide, including both public- and private-sector workers, the lowest level of union participation since the 1930s.
Fixing unfair labor practices
In the late 1800s, the average American worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, just to get by. Child labor was common, even among children as young as 5 or 6 years old, and children worked equally long hours in factories and mines for a fraction of what adults were paid.
Giving workers an eight-hour day
Workers and labor unions had been calling for an eight-hour work day for many years, and various legislative attempts had been made to establish shorter shifts, but without much widespread success. It wasn’t until 1916, when Congress passed the Adamson Act, that the eight-hour work day gained a foothold in U.S. law as well as American culture. The Act established an eight-hour work day, with additional pay for overtime, for employees who operated trains for interstate railway carriers. The Adamson Act was the first federal legislation in the United States that regulated the hours of workers in private companies.