Pattye Benson

Community Matters


Labor Day . . . Enjoy and Remember Why We Celebrate

The first Monday in September, Labor Day, has come to mean the ending of summer . . . the close of the swimming pool . . . a day off from work and a great excuse to have that last big backyard barbecue. But do you know the origin of Labor Day and why we celebrate it?

A brief history of the holiday; Labor Day originated in 1882 as a result of the labor movement and was to recognize the working person with a special day in their honor. There seems some disagreement as to who began the holiday. Some historians credit Peter McGuire, who was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiner and cofounder of the American Federal of Labor as the man who first advocated for the holiday.

But others have suggested that it was a Matthew Maguire who served as the secretary of the New York’s Central Labor Union as the originator of Labor Day. Regardless, ultimately the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and official celebration on September 5, 1882 in New York City.

Why choose the first Monday in September for the holiday? It was decided that this date would be halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The idea became popular with labor unions and local governments around the county and gradually came to adopt Labor Day as an official holiday before it developed into a national holiday.

President Grover Cleveland signed the law that that recognized Labor Day as a national holiday for the working man. As an aside, Cleveland was not a labor union supporter but hoped that the legislation would help him with political damage that he had suffered earlier that same year. During that time, Cleveland has used federal troops to thwart an American Railway Union strike in Chicago, and as a result, 34 railroad workers were killed. Originally, the holiday was celebrated by union workers with large public demonstrations, in the form of rallies and parades. However, as industrial centered developed the large parades became impractical giving way to family and neighborhood backyard celebrations.

As you enjoy your day off from work and your backyard barbecue, remember all the working people who contribute to the standard of living that as Americans we all enjoy.

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