Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day...Or Not

Well, here it is, September 1. Summer's nearly behind us, and in Texas where it's been a raging inferno most of us are giving heartfelt thanks. It's also Labor Day, a holiday celebrated only in the United States, but I thought for everyone out there (and you are a might crowd!) who lives outside the U.S. of A., a little history of the holiday night be in order.
Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement in the United States, and is dedicated to recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is an annual national celebration of the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
Founder of Labor Day
More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."
But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.
The First Labor Day
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, arranged by the Central Labor Union. That organization Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the permanent day for the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
Labor Day Legislation
Through the years the United states gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
A Nationwide Holiday
The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement, although this seems to have somewhat fallen by the wayside.
The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.
The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.
In our little corner of Texas this is the weekend we hold the county fair and we have a parade down Main Street that is so typical you want to put it in a movie. People have picnics, barbecues, family dinners, hang out at the fair. For everyone still working (not retired, for example) it is a day to enjoy the fruits of your labors all year long.
I'd love to hear you y'all celebrate Labor Day. and if live outside the U.S., tell me about any holidays you have that might be considered close to this. Me, I'll still be 'laboring' today trying to meet yet another deadline! LOL!


Elle James said...

Nice history lesson, Judith! Thanks! We spent Saturday on the lake water skiing. My son came up to visit and we had a lovely time. Today, I plan on laboring over a manuscript I need to edit.

Anny Cook said...

I'll be writing, also. If the house hunk doesn't drag me out to do laundry. Ick.

Jan Scarbrough said...

My grandchildren will be coming over this afternoon. Maybe I'll even work on my book today. Basically, I plan to relax.

K.M. Saint James said...

I love that Labor Day is the 'workman's and oh, it should definitely be the work-woman's holiday' as well. Somehow, I don't actually get a holiday. Maybe as a work-woman I need to try harder to not do anything on this day in the future. Hey, as a mom of three, it could happen, right? Ah, come on, tell me it could happen.

Happy Labor Day to you. I'm right there on the relief of heat. It can't get cool fast enough for me.

Anonymous said...

between you and my pastor's sermon from yesterday, I am up-to-date on the history of Labor Day! LOL

Today? I need to finish my short for the Arkansas Anthology.

Anonymous said...

Canada and the UK have celebrated Labour Day for years, usually with a big parade in Toronto of union members. As far back as I can remember Labour Day was a big deal. The last day of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and back to school on Tuesday. It's a lovely sunny day in Victoria and I a have back spasms. Grrr. I hope to get out for a walk to enjoy the sun. Happy Holiday everone.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Very nice bits of history, Judith!

Anonymous said...

Anita is back with an apology. My darling husband tells me they do not celebrate Labour Day in the UK on the first Monday in September. He reminded me of our visit to London during May, many years ago. It was a Labour Day holiday! Even the pubs were closed!Now that is bad news.