All About Labor Day | Why Do We Celebrate It
Labor Day has become a three-day, end-of summer weekend filled with backyard barbecues, road trips, parties and parades.
But it’s actually a celebration honoring something more significant: the contributions of the American worker. In fact, Labor Day is a direct result of the labor movement’s push for better working conditions. During the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800’s, the typical American worker put in 12-hours a day, seven days a week. Children as young as five worked long hours in the mines and mills, and unsafe working conditions were often the rule rather than the exception.
Peter McGuire, an Irish-American cabinet maker, is considered the father of the Labor Day holiday. At a union meeting in 1882, he advocated for “a festive day in which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American Industry.” Four months later, 10,000 workers in New York City took time off work—unpaid—to march from City Hall to Union Square in what was to become the first of many Labor Day parades.
Twelve years later, in 1894, Labor Day became a legal holiday. By 1916, Congress passed a law establishing an eight-hour work day and overtime pay for interstate railroad workers.
Times have definitely changed. Union membership has dropped nearly 50% in the past three decades, fewer than one in three American teenagers works a summer job, and 14.6 million Americans are now self-employed.
So if you’re one of the 150 million people in the American work force, remember Peter McGuire this fourth of September. If it weren’t for him, you’d probably be working that day. ###