Labor Day

Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1894 and is observed on the first Monday in September. The roots of Labor Day grew out of violent clashes between labor and police during the Haymarket Riot in 1886, when thousands of workers in Chicago took to the streets to demand an eight-hour workday.

Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader, was the person who came up with the idea for Labor Day. He thought American workers should be honored with their own day. He proposed his idea to New York’s Central Labor Union early in 1882, and they thought the holiday was a good idea, too.

Working conditions in the country’s factories, railroads, mills, and mines were grim. Employees, including many children, were often required to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. Supervision was harsh and punishments were handed out to those who talked or sang as they worked.

In 1882, those labor unions that existed then formed a parade of bricklayers, jewelers, typographers, dress and cloak makers, and many other tradespeople—took unpaid leave and marched with their locals. The day culminated in picnics, speeches, fireworks, and dancing.

In the years that followed, company owners began to accept workers’ demands for better treatment. In 1914, Henry Ford more than doubled wages to $5 a day. When his profits doubled in two years, rivals realized he might be onto something. In 1926, he cut workers’ hours from nine to eight.

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, but worker-oriented Labor Day parades and festivities are still part of the federal holiday. Working conditions did improve. By the 1940s, the average workweek had fallen to five eight-hour days.

Today, union membership is on the rise after decades of decline.

Related Blogs:

Labor Day – Your Ancestors at Work

After Labor Day

Abbreviations of Occupations

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