As a national holiday, Labor Day turns 125 years old in the US this year.

There was already a legal holiday in September commemorating Labor day in 23 states when President Grover Cleveland signed the national Labor Day legislation into law on June 28, 1894, only two days after Congress passed it.  So, while much of the world celebrates Labor Day in May, in the US, the nation followed the state holidays and also avoided associating the day with the many notable US labor events that had already taken place in May  — the Haymarket Affair, the Pullman Strike, and the Railroad Boycott.

Labor Day's 125th Anniversary
Labor Day parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 1894

By making one day in each year a public holiday for the benefit of workingmen the equality and dignity of labor is emphasized. Nothing is more important to the public weal than that the nobility of labor be maintained. So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen.

The celebration of Labor Day as a national holiday will in time naturally lead to an honorable emulation among the different crafts beneficial to them and to the whole public. It will tend to increase the feeling of common brotherhood among men of all crafts and callings…

Workingmen should have one day in the year peculiarly their own. Nor will their employers lose anything by it. Workingmen are benefited by a reasonable amount of rest and recreation. Whatever makes a workingman more of a man makes him more useful as a craftsman.

Rep. Lawrence McGann (D-IL),
Committee on Labor
Report to accompany H.R 28
May 15, 1894

Labor Day Parade, float of Women’s Trade Union League, New York, 1908: CC- PD

The new holiday was enthusiastically embraced across the US. To commemorate Labor Day, people gathered in city centers for massive street parades made up of labor and union members and the enjoyment of community picnics and festivals. It was a day to give recognition to workers and show the unity, strength, enthusiasm, and commitment of trade and labor organizations.

Labor Day parade, Main St., Buffalo, N.Y. Circa 1900 CC- PD

Chairman of the House Labor Committee, Lawrence McGann of Illinois suggested at the first official Labor Day parade in Chicago:

“Let us each Labor day, hold a congress and formulate propositions for the amelioration of the people. Send them to your Representatives with your earnest, intelligent indorsement [sic], and the laws will be changed.”

So — Happy Labor Day’s 125th Anniversary!

Consider taking Chairman McGann’s advice and “formulate propositions for the amelioration of the people” and see if “the laws will be changed.”

And remember, Labor: It’s Not Just What We Do, It’s What We Add

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