September 06, 2021

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the US celebrated on the first Monday in September in any given year.  The day falls anywhere from September 1 through September 7.  The day was created to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers.  Beginning in the late 19th century, trade unionists proposed a day be set aside to celebrate labor.  “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City.  In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday.  By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially celebrated Labor Day.  Canada’s Labor Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September.

While the US and Canada celebrate in September, more than 80 countries celebrate an International Workers’ Day on May 1, the ancient European holiday of May Day.  May Day was chosen for recognition by the Second International of Socialist and Communist parties to commemorate the Haymarket affair (riot) which occurred in Chicago on May 4, 1886.  The Haymarket affair, or the Haymarket massacre, was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois.  It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour workday, the day after police killed one and injured several workers.  An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at the police as they acted to disperse the meeting, and the bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians.  Dozens were wounded.

Before it was a federal holiday, Labor Day was recognized by labor activists and individual states.  After municipal ordinances were passed in 1885 and 1886, a movement developed to secure state legislation.  New York was the first state to introduce a bill, but Oregon was the first to pass a law recognizing Labor Day on February 21, 1887.  During 1887, four more states; Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York passed laws creating a Labor Day holiday. By the end of the decade, Connecticut, Nebraska. and Pennsylvania had followed suit.  By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

Thoughts:  While Labor Day was created out of a long struggle to acknowledge the rights of workers, the only thing most now seem to remember about the celebration is that they get a day off during the first part of September.   This began as a day of revolt when workers simply refused to come to work.  When enough workers refused, it was acknowledged by states and then the federal government.  A similar action occurred when Blacks Lives Matter activist took to the streets during 2020.  The movement demanded the government recognize police needed to provide the same rights to Black citizens that was shown to others.  Somehow this is seen as controversial.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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