Labor Day is to the US what 1st of May is to Malta. This year this federal holiday comes at a time when the US economy seems to be picking up. With news of companies like GE, Lenovo and Apple in the process of moving manufacturing back to the US, we sincerely hope that this year’s Labor Day celebrations will mark the beginning of a period of economic recovery during which workers will have decent jobs and their basic right to work is fulfilled.
Labor Day was first proposed as a holiday in 1882. Although it is not universally agreed as to who first suggested it, it came during a time when workers typically worked a twelve hour day, seven days a week and earned just enough money to live a basic lifestyle. Working conditions were awful with no concern for the mental and physical safety of workers. Movies such as Modern Times, Silkwood, Roger & Me, The Grapes of Wrath and Norma Rae should help you appreciate what Labor Day is all about.
The first Labor Day march took place on September 5 1882 in New York. The date was chosen because it was felt that there were no holidays between July 4th and Thanksgiving. Workers first marched from City Hall to Union Square and then spent an afternoon at Reservoir Park being entertained and listening to speeches asking for an 8 hour day. Initially workers would have had to take an unpaid day off to participate in the holiday. Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday on February 21, 1887 and others soon followed.
In 1894 workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike following a reduction in wages. President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 federal troops to Pullman, Chicago and violence erupted. A number of workers died in the clashes that ensued. President Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday just six days after the strike ended.
The first Monday of September was retained rather than more widespread International Workers' Day (May 1) because Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would be associated with Communists.
Many families today use Labor Day to mark the end of summer.