In the United States, millions of people celebrate Labor Day with a 3-day weekend, parades, picnics, travel, family gatherings, and parties. But do you know the history of Labor Day? The holiday has roots dating back to the 1800s. The beginning of the labor movement was fueled by violence and death.
Why Celebrate Labor Day?
Are you wondering why we celebrate Labor Day every year? Labor Day celebrates the ongoing accomplishments and daily contributions of the American worker to the economy. It’s the average working person’s holiday.
How Did Labor Day Begin?
Labor Day, recognized every first Monday in September, did not have celebratory beginnings. In fact, the holiday originated from poor working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. During the time, workers, the extremely poor, migrants, and young children, spent 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in unsafe working environments.
The unsanitary, poorly ventilated mills, factories, and coal mines took a toll on the American workforce. Eventually, the exploited workers participated in protests, strikes, and rallies. The workers demanded better working conditions and higher compensation for their hard labor.
The protests were not peaceful. Violent encounters between the police and strikers were prevalent during this period. Ultimately, the unrest turned deadly. In Chicago, the Haymarket Riot of 1886 resulted in the death of several people, policemen and protestors.
The First Labor Day Parade
Unlike today’s celebrations, the first Labor Day parade did not have floats, festive music, clowns, or attractions. The parade comprised of 10,000 workers from New York. Marching from City Hall to Union Square, the workers took the day off without pay to bring attention to the dismal working conditions.
Making Labor Day Official
Despite the march in New York, Labor Day did not become official until years later. During the time more American laborers died in unsafe working environments and violent protests. At one point, troops were sent to Chicago to break up the Pullman strike, a boycott of railway cars. The clash between troops and workers resulted in more deaths.
Finally, to repair the damage, Congress introduced an Act for the District of Columbia and other areas recognizing the daily efforts of American workers. The recognition began to grow in other states. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland turned the act into law.
As you sit down to enjoy a BBQ or watch a parade, take a moment to thank the workers who started the holiday over a century ago.