And should it be celebrated on a Tuesday instead?
It’s one of those holidays that we celebrate, but my guess is that most people have no idea on the answer. But several (many?) years ago, I touched on this on the blog and I thought it would be fun to resurrect some of those facts.
Indeed, Slate magazine had a good explainer way back in 2010 on the subject. Turns out Grover Cleveland has a lot to do with it but its origins go back even further than that.
Though President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day a national holiday in 1894, the occasion was first observed on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. A parade was organized by the city’s Central Labor Union, a branch of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a secretive labor union founded in 1869 by a clique of Philadelphia tailors. Historians still debate over whom, specifically, to credit with the idea of a holiday dedicated to the workingman. Some say that Labor Day was the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Others argue that Matthew Maguire, the CLU’s secretary, was the holiday’s mastermind and that he doesn’t receive proper credit because he ticked off the mainstream labor movement by running for vice president on the National Socialist Labor Party ticket in 1896.
According to Ted Watt’s The First Labor Day Parade, the September date was chosen because it coincided with a Knights of Labor conference in New York, thus guaranteeing a sizable turnout for the festivities. Though the event wasn’t particularly festive, at least by today’s standards: It resembled a protest far more than a parade, with CLU members required to march in support of the eight-hour workday. (Those who ditched faced fines.)
The U.S. Department of Labor’s website delves into the controversy over how the holiday started as well with this background explainer page too.
More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.
The most fascinating part to me was that it was first celebrated on a Tuesday!
And how did such a holiday then become the traditional end to the summer season? Well, I’ll leave that to the experts. But in the meantime, enjoy this list of top 10 workplace songs (plus some alternates). And be sure to check out the comments on the post where my labor law friends post a “union-friendly” list too including “Bread and Roses”.