By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
Every year, on the first Monday in September, Labor Day honors the social and economic achievements of American workers. The national holiday first started off as a regional celebration in states like Oregon and New York during the 1880s. For over 100 years now, it has commemorated the labor movement’s battle for better wages, legal protection, and safer working conditions.
While historians aren’t entirely sure who first proposed the holiday for workers, some records show that the founder is Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, who was also co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Apparently, he was the first major official to recommend a day honoring people “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” Others believe the founder was actually a machinist named Matthew Maguire (not to be confused with the aforementioned McGuire), who proposed it while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
So, how did all these “unions” and pro-worker groups form? Well, when employees wanted better pay, shorter work days, and less dangerous conditions in factories, they would often create or join groups called unions. Then, the unions would negotiate with company owners for improved labor circumstances, and organize strikes to pressure them. During a strike, union members would refuse to work, and since so many of them agreed to strike at the same time, it often brought company production to a standstill. These efforts contributed to laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act that sets standards for wages and overtime pay, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act that ensures workplaces are free from recognized hazards. The USA’s Department of Labor now enforces these laws, among others, to ensure a healthy and prosperous workplace for all.
Street parades and festivals are held on Labor Day in major cities, and even students get to enjoy a three-day weekend. Kites are flown on the beach, barbecues fill the air with delicious smells, and sporting events draw huge crowds.
Images of courtesy of United States Department of Labor.