Why Call it Labor Day When Most People Have the Day Off?

labor dayWhile calling it Labor Day seems like it should be a day for everyone to “labor”, in actuality it is the complete opposite. The first Monday in September, the halfway point between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, was first recognized as Labor Day on September 5, 1882. It is a day set aside to recognize the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. Labor Day, however, is not just an American holiday, it is celebrated in many countries, with the closest being our neighbor to the north, Canada. Even today, there is a dispute as to who is the real founder of Labor Day. Peter J. McGuire, who was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was noted to be the first to suggest a day to honor those who have built our country through their hard work. More recently, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, is given credit for suggesting Labor Day in 1882 while serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. No matter who gets the credit for suggesting the Labor Day celebration, it was decided on with the same purpose.

historic labor day parade

Labor Day Parade in Detroit 1940s

While the first and second Labor Day celebrations were only recognized in New York City, the Central Labor Union began to urge other labor organizations in other cities to follow the example, and in 1885 Labor Day began to be celebrated in many industrials centers in the United States. This same year, the first governmental recognition of Labor Day began with municipal ordinances being passed. This opened the door to request state legislation to proclaim Labor Day a state holiday. New York, of course, was the first to introduce this type of legislature to the state, but Oregon was actually the first state to recognize Labor Day in February of 1887. Four more states joined Oregon that year: Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and later in the year, New York. By 1894, 23 additional states adopted the holiday, and in June of the same year, Congress passed an act to proclaim the first Monday of September as a federal holiday.

labor day parade

1942 Labor Day Parade

The way Labor Day was to be celebrated was actually included in the first proposal of the holiday. It was to include a street parade to show off the solidarity and strength of its workers and then a festival for the workers and their families to enjoy. It came to include speeches from prominent men and women of the time when more emphasis was put on the holiday’s economic and civic significance. Later, in 1909, the Sunday before Labor Day was to be recognized as Labor Sunday and was set aside to honor the spiritual and educational achievements of the American worker. The two-day celebration was a chance for the American worker to take pride in their personal achievements and the part they have played in the success of their country.

As with most United States holidays, the true meaning of the holiday has all but disappeared and has given way to people just looking at it as an extra day off work and a day to take advantage of the abundance of retail sales. While there is less emphasis put on public celebrations by American workers, there is still significant coverage of addresses given by educators, government officials and others that want to keep the real meaning of Labor Day in the public eye.

labor daySo while you are enjoying your day off and enjoying some of the last big retail sales of the year, take a moment to recognize all those that made it possible.  From the vehicle you are driving, in most cases, to the building your favorite store is in, to the products you are purchasing on sale, you can thank an American worker for building that vehicle, paving the road, building the store and making some of the products you purchase. With American workers, none of those things would be possible.

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