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Labor Day – A Brief History

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Most of us have today off for Labor Day. But what are we celebrating? And why do we celebrate the first Monday in September?

 Traditional history says that Peter McGuire, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor, suggested a day [the first Monday in September] to commemorate and celebrate the efforts of the working class in 1880 or 1881 (Recent research says the similarly-named Matthew Maguire, also involved in the union movement, may have made the suggestion about the same time).

At any rate, New York City’s Central Labor Union put together a giant parade and picnic, which was held on September 5Th, 1882 [a Tuesday, as it turns out. Labor Day was a work in progress]. It was so successful that the CLU threw another bash on September 5Th, 1883 [which would've been a Wednesday].

The following year, organizers finally decided to try having Labor Day on the first Monday of September, and also encouraged union leaders in other cities to celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that day. The idea spread quickly, and by 1885, Labor Day was honored in many of the industrial centers across America.

Over the first few years of Labor Day, several states, including New York, made it a legal holiday. But it wasn’t until 1894 that Congress stepped in and made the first Monday in September a national holiday.

Since then, the emphasis of Labor Day has changed from a parade and picnic to speeches by union officials and other community leaders. The recognition of women’s roles in the workforce has increased in recent years as well. What remains unchanged is the celebration of work, and working people, across the United States.

 [US Department Of Labor]

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