History of Labor Day

History of Labor Day

Labor Day: What it Means

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Labor Day Legislation

The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During 1887, four more states – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. 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 in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Founder of Labor Day

More than a century after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday.

A Nationwide Holiday

Women's Auxiliary Typographical UnionThe form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has changed in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics, and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.



Labor Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.[1][2][3] It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend.

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that 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.[4]

Canada's Labour Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September. More than 80 countries celebrate International Workers' Day on May 1 – the ancient European holiday of May Day. (May Day was chosen by the Second Internationale of socialist and communist parties to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago on May 4, 1886.[5][6])



Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, different groups of trade unionists chose a variety of days on which to celebrate labor. In the United States, a September holiday called Labor Day was first proposed in the early 1880s. Alternate stories of the event's origination exist.[citation needed]

According to one early history of Labor Day, the event originated in connection with a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor convened in New York City in September 1882.[7] In connection with this clandestine Knights assembly, a public parade of various labor organizations was held on September 5 under the auspices of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York.[7] Secretary of the CLU Matthew Maguire is credited for first proposing that a national Labor Day holiday subsequently be held on the first Monday of each September in the aftermath of this successful public demonstration.[8]

An alternative thesis maintains that the idea of Labor Day was the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire, a vice president of the American Federation of Labor, who put forward the initial proposal in the spring of 1882.[4] According to McGuire, on May 8, 1882, he made a proposition to the fledgling Central Labor Union in New York City that a day be set aside for a "general holiday for the laboring classes".[9] According to McGuire he further recommended that the event should begin with a street parade as a public demonstration of organized labor's solidarity and strength, with the march followed by a picnic, to which participating local unions could sell tickets as a fundraiser.[9] According to McGuire he suggested the first Monday in September as an ideal date for such a public celebration, owing to optimum weather and the date's place on the calendar, sitting midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving public holidays.[9]

Yet another origin story goes back to Canada. In 1882, an American labor leader witnessed the annual May "labour day" festivities in Toronto which inspired him to organize the first American "labor day" on September 5 that same year.[citation needed]

Labor Day picnics and other public gatherings frequently featured speeches by prominent labor leaders.[citation needed]

In 1909, the American Federation of Labor convention designated the Sunday preceding Labor Day as "Labor Sunday", to be dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.[8] This secondary date failed to gain significant traction in popular culture.[citation needed]

Legal recognition

The popularity of the event spread across the country. In 1887, Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday. By 1894, thirty U.S. states were already officially celebrating Labor Day.[10] In that year, Congress passed a bill recognizing the first Monday of September as Labor Day and making it an official federal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law on June 28.[11][4] The federal law, however, only made it a holiday for federal workers. As late as the 1930s, unions were encouraging workers to strike to make sure they got the day off.[12] All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories have subsequently made Labor Day a statutory holiday.[citation needed]

Labor Day vs. May Day

The date of May 1 (an ancient European folk holiday known as May Day) emerged in 1886 as an alternative holiday for the celebration of labor, later becoming known as International Workers' Day. The date had its origins at the 1885 convention of the American Federation of Labor, which passed a resolution calling for adoption of the eight-hour day effective May 1, 1886.[13] While negotiation was envisioned for achievement of the shortened work day, use of the strike to enforce this demand was recognized, with May 1 advocated as a date for coordinated strike action.[13] The proximity of the date to the bloody Haymarket affair of May 4, 1886, further accentuated May First's radical reputation.[citation needed]

There was disagreement among labor unions at this time about when a holiday celebrating workers should be, with some advocating for continued emphasis of the September march-and-picnic date while others sought the designation of the more politically-charged date of May 1. Conservative Democratic President Grover Cleveland was one of those concerned that a labor holiday on May 1 would tend to become a commemoration of the Haymarket Affair and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that backed the May 1 commemoration around the globe.[14] In 1887, he publicly supported the September Labor Day holiday as a less inflammatory alternative,[15] formally adopting the date as a United States federal holiday through a law that he signed in 1894.[citation needed]

Since the mid-1950s, the United States has celebrated Loyalty Day and Law Day on May 1. Unlike Labor Day, both are not legal public holidays (in that non-essential government agencies and most businesses do not shut down to celebrate them) and therefore have remained relatively obscure. Loyalty Day is formally celebrated in a few cities, while some bar associations hold Law Day events to celebrate the rule of law.[citation needed]

Unofficial end of summer

Labor Day is called the "unofficial end of summer"[16] because it marks the end of the cultural summer season. Many take their two-week vacations during the two weeks ending Labor Day weekend.[17] Many fall activities, such as school and sports, begin about this time.[citation needed]

In the United States, many school districts resume classes around the Labor Day holiday weekend (see First day of school). Some begin the week before, making Labor Day weekend the first three-day weekend of the school calendar, while others return the Tuesday following Labor Day. Many districts across the Midwest are opting to begin school after Labor Day.[18]

In the U.S. state of Virginia, the amusement park industry has successfully lobbied for legislation requiring most school districts in the state to have their first day of school after Labor Day, in order to give families another weekend to visit amusement parks in the state. The relevant statute has been nicknamed the "Kings Dominion law" after one such park.[19] This law was repealed in 2019.[20]

In the U.S. state of Minnesota, the State Fair ends on Labor Day. Under state law, public schools normally do not begin until after the holiday. One reason given for this timing was to allow time for school children to show 4-H projects at the Fair.[21]

In U.S. sports, Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of many fall sports. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams usually play their first games that weekend, and the National Football League (NFL) traditionally play their kickoff game the Thursday following Labor Day. The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race has been held on Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina from 1950 to 2003 and since 2015. At Indianapolis Raceway Park, the National Hot Rod Association hold their finals of the NHRA U.S. Nationals drag race that weekend. Labor Day is the middle point between weeks one and two of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships held in Flushing Meadows, New York.[citation needed]

In fashion, Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day when it is acceptable to wear white[22] or seersucker.[23][24]

There are numerous events and activities organized in major cities. For example, New York offers the Labor Day Carnival, and fireworks over Coney Island.[25] In Washington, one popular event is the Labor Day Concert at the U.S. Capitol featuring the National Symphony Orchestra with free attendance.[26]

Labor Day sales

To take advantage of large numbers of potential customers with time to shop, Labor Day has become an important weekend for discounts and allowances by many retailers in the United States, especially for back-to-school sales. Some retailers claim it is one of the largest sale dates of the year, second only to the Christmas season's Black Friday.[27]


U.S. Department of Labor, "Labor Daze – Pride, Chaos and Kegs on Labor’s First ‘Day’"

"History of Labor Day". dol.gov. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved May 16, 2020.

"Labor Day 2020". History.com. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved May 16, 2020.

The Bridgemen's magazine. International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers. 1921. pp. 443–444. Archived from the original on October 9, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2011.

Philip S. Foner (1986). May Day: A Short History of the International Workers' Holiday, 1886–1986. New York: International Publishers. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0-7178-0624-3.

Rothman, Lily (May 1, 2017). "The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers". Time. Retrieved 2018-03-18.

"Origin of Labor Day", Cincinnati Tribune, September 1, 1895, Special Labor Day supplement, p. 26.

"United States Department of Labor: The History of Labor Day". Archived from the original on September 25, 2017. Retrieved November 3, 2017.

P.J. McGuire, "Labor Day – Its Birth and Significance", The Union Agent [Kentucky], vol. 3, no. 9 (Sept. 1898), p. 1.

"Labour day – a holiday born in Canada". Canadian Labour Congress. September 3, 2018. Retrieved September 2, 2020.

"Public Acts of the Fifty-Third Congress of the United States" (PDF). United States Statutes at Large. 28: 96. 1894. Retrieved September 4, 2020.

Zagorsky, Jay (August 29, 2017). "Have we forgotten the true meaning of Labor Day?". The Conversation US. Retrieved September 1, 2019.

Philip S. Foner, May Day: A Short History of the International Workers' Holiday. New York: International Publishers, 1986; p. 19.

Sally Kohn (September 1, 2014). Why Labor Day was a political move. CNN. Retrieved August 3, 2018.

"Knights of Labor". Progressive Historians. September 3, 2007. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.

Weil, Martin (August 31, 2019). "Labor Day weekend brings summer to an unofficial close". The Washington Post.

"Labor Day: The Last (and Best) Chance for a Summer Vacation". Travelocity.

Charles, C. M.; Senter, Gail W. (2008). Elementary classroom management. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-205-51071-9. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2011.

Freed, Benjamin (August 25, 2014). ""Kings Dominion Law" Still Reigns in Virginia". Washingtonian. Archived from the original on September 13, 2016. Retrieved September 5, 2016.

Smith, Max (March 21, 2019). "With repeal of Kings Dominion law, Va. schools can now start before Labor Day". WTOP News. Retrieved September 2, 2019.

"Commonly asked questions". www.mpls.k12.mn.us. Archived from the original on September 4, 2017. Retrieved November 27, 2017.

Laura FitzPatrick (September 8, 2009). "Why We Can't Wear White After Labor Day". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011. Retrieved February 25, 2011.

Bell, Johnathan (May 9, 2011). "An Introduction to Seersucker for Men". Guy Style Guide. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2012.

O'Brien, Glenn. "Daytime wedding after Labor Day: Is it OK to wear a light beige suit to a daytime wedding after Labor Day?". GQ. The Style Guy. Archived from the original on January 31, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2012.

"Labor Day Weekend". rove.me.

"20+ Ways to Celebrate Labor Day Weekend in Washington, DC". Destination DC.

"Labor Day Intention Still Holds Meaning". Tri Parish Times. August 30, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012.


Green, James (2007). Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. Anchor. ISBN 1-4000-3322-5.


September 7, 2020 at 7:12 AM

By: john whitfield

May Day Started in Chicago

The Origins and Significance of May Day vs. Labor Day

In over 80 countries around the world, the first of May, or May Day, is commemorated and celebrated as a day of workers’ rights and workers’ solidarity. In many countries, the day is marked with marches and speeches, along with general festivities, which offer everyone a chance to reflect on the impact of labor regulations Gear-and-Gavel_black(or lack thereof) on their lives.

The official counterpart in the U.S., Labor Day, occurs on the first Monday of September and stands in stark contrast to the international celebration months before. While enjoyable in its own right, Labor Day is hardly more than a day routinely promised to barbecues, and erroneously marking the end of summer. This innocuous rendition of what should be a socially conscious holiday deprives us of the opportunity to reflect on the importance of workers’ rights advocacy in the past, and set goals for the future.

Surprisingly to many (including myself), the origins of May Day started here in the United States. The holiday stems back to the eight hour work day movement, which began circa 1864, when the abolition of slavery highlighted the importance of matching actual freedom with practical freedom- meaning adequate time to pursue family, education and leisure. Over twenty years later, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” Thus, on May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers across the U.S. went on a general strike in an effort to make the eight hour work day a reality.

The general strike led up to a labor rally in Chicago on May 4, 1886, where the movement erupted in violence. The day marks the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, where police shot and killed several demonstrators after a bomb had been thrown from an unknown source. The next day, martial law was declared throughout the nation. Within months, eight labor leaders were selected to be tried, resulting in seven being sentenced to the death penalty (four of which were carried out).

In July 1889, a delegate from the American Federation of Labor recommended at a labor conference in Paris that May 1 be set aside as International Labor Day in memory of Haymarket martyrs. Over the next several years, people across the globe began demonstrating on May 1, and in many countries the day became an official holiday. May Day remains an official holiday in countries ranging from Argentina to India to Sweden—and dozens of countries in between.

Meanwhile, in 1894, in the midst of massive unrest caused by the railway boycott led by union leader Eugene Debs, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of September a holiday in honor of workers. In doing so, Congress followed the lead of several states and municipalities that had already recognized Labor Day as the first Monday of September, stemming back to 1882 in New York City. And so, May Day fell to the wayside.

Decades later, May Day was dealt its final blow in 1958 when Congress officially made May 1 ‘Loyalty Day,’ or a day to reaffirm loyalty to the U.S. This Cold War invention somehow remains alive today: President Obama- like every other president before him- again this year proclaimed May 1 to be a day to “reaffirm our allegiance to the United States of America” by “displaying the flag of the United States or pledging allegiance to the Republic for which it stands.”

Thankfully, May Day has had a strong comeback here in the U.S. in recent years through the immigrant, labor and occupy movements. While it still doesn’t compare to its international equivalents, it is important that we acknowledge the roots of this global holiday, and the intentional efforts to minimize and dilute its significance.

The eight hour work day was not codified into federal law until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the same legislation that gave us a federal minimum wage and many other worker protections.

September 29, 2020 at 4:13 PM

By: Theresa Daniels

Substance rocks!

Excellent choice of articles and topics in this September Substance. Thanks!

September 30, 2020 at 5:39 PM

By: John Kugler

New Website and Investigations

Thanks Theresa, we are working on a new website and other social media content. we have a few investigations we are working on too.

Anyone with stories send them my way especially subs and CADRES ... that is how Substance started by protecting the most vulnerable employees in CPS.


put SUBARTS in the subject line



Substance Editor

November 14, 2020 at 10:18 AM

By: Douglas Hanlon

May Day

It's worth noting that the really big turnouts for May Day were in those countries which had achieved socialism, where participation was more or less compulsory.

November 14, 2020 at 11:10 PM

By: John Kugler

what countries?

Doug what countries are you talking about? France, UK or Germany?

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