Picnics and parades, perhaps a last quick trip to the beach with the kids, Labor Day for many signifies the end of summer and a three-day weekend. But as we enjoy the Holiday with our friends and family, let's take a moment to remember the true origins of Labor Day.
Labor Day is our Holiday, a day to celebrate and honor American workers. The origins of Labor Day are rich in history and legend. Some credit a New York City carpenter named Peter McGuire for coming up the idea for Labor Day. In 1882, after working many long hours under poor conditions, McGuire rallied 100,000 workers to go on strike. The workers marched through the streets of New York City, demanding a better work environment.
Others credit Eugene Debs, American Railway Union president, who called for a full-scale national railroad strike in 1883 after the Pullman Railroad Car Company cut wages by 25 percent to preserve huge profits for the company. By the summer of 1884 more than 125,000 railroad men were on strike across the country, freezing transportation on twenty railroads in 27 states. Federal troops intervened in Chicago, the railroad industry's center, and there were riots, fires, shootings, and 34 deaths. Debs and 5 others were arrested and the strike was broken.
That strike is said to have caused Congress and President Grover Cleveland, in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, to pass an act making Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894.
Regardless of who truly came up with the idea of a "workingman's holiday," those early strikes, rallies and parades brought about change and set forth a new path for labor. The eight-hour workday, weekends and holidays, minimum wage and better working conditions, child labor laws, can all be credited to the work of our brothers and sisters in the labor movement during those tenuous times.
Those brave men and women blazed a path. As we celebrate this weekend, remember those who fought and died to create a better world for us today.