This year: Monday, September 02, 2019
Labor Day in most of the world is celebrated on May 1st, or May Day. In the United States the celebration takes place on the first Monday in September and it is one of the older official holidays in this country. First celebrated in New York City in 1882, it spread quickly to other major cities in the industrialized northern states. It was Oregon in 1887, however, that was the first state to enact legislation making the first Monday in September an official holiday in recognition of the Labor Movement. By 1894 twenty-eight states had passed similar legislation, as had the Congress of the United States.
Historically, Labor Day celebrations have been part protest demonstrations. The first marches in New York City were in support of the 8-hour day. Even when they were not about specific issues, the parades and speeches associated with Labor Day have been about being a show of solidarity, and a demonstration of the strength of the labor movement. As the labor movement became stronger and more of a political force, more politicians became involved in the speech making parts of the celebration. In Presidential election years it has long marked the start of the official campaign season.
In the last half of the 20th century, as the labor movement declined in numbers and political importance, the character of Labor Day started to change as well. The marches became smaller as did the political rallies. The holiday has become more about being the end of summer and the last three days weekend in which to go to the beach. In school districts in many northern and western states the holiday marks the beginning of the school year.
While the date of the first large Labor Day celebration in the United States is well known, it is still uncertain who had the original idea. The more politically involved wing of the Knights of Labor (including the Central Labor Union of New York City), claimed that it was Matthew McGuire, the Secretary for the CLU, that first proposed the idea for the 1882 celebration. The American Federation of Labor, another organization that was part of the Knights of Labor, claimed that it was one of their co-founders, Peter J. McGuire that had the initial idea. In either case, it was certainly a brain child of the Knights of Labor.
The original founders of Labor Day would still recognize the celebration today, though they might be disappointed in the turn outs for the parades. The issues facing the labor movement today are certainly different as are the jobs that the members of the dwindling labor unions are doing, but Labor Day still celebrates the work that the men and women of this great country are doing every day. Matthew McGuire, Peter J. McGuire and the other leaders of the 1882 labor movement would be proud of what the labor movement and the workers have accomplished.