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The origin of Labor day in the United States

To commemorate workers’ struggles for better conditions and shorter working hours, Labor Day is celebrated in the United States on the first Monday in September.

Labor Day parade | image source: Us department of Labor
Labor Day parade | image source: Us department of Labor

Labor Day in the United States has its origins in the labor and trade union movement of the late 19th century. You may wonder why they don’t celebrate May Day like other countries.

The story goes back to September 5, 1882, when New York’s Central Labor Union organized the first major celebration. Although not the official national celebration, it marked the beginning of what later became an important tradition.

On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law to commemorate workers’ rights on the first Monday of September each year.

Before becoming a public holiday, Labor Day was recognized by activists and some states. Following the passage of municipal ordinances in 1885 and 1886, a movement developed to obtain state-level legislation.

Although New York was the first state to introduce a bill, the first state to pass legislation recognizing Labor Day was Oregon, on February 21, 1887.

In 1887, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York passed laws commemorating Labor Day. By the end of the decade, Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday.

Who is responsible for promoting Labor Day? 

We still don’t know who is behind this commemoration. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, records reveal that in 1882, Peter J. McGuire, secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, suggested that a day be set aside to honor workers.

Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire | image source: Us department of Labor
Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire | image source: Us department of Labor

However, others believe, after recent research, that machinist Matthew Maguire is the forerunner of Labor Day.

The New Jersey Historical Society revealed that after President Cleveland signed the bill, the Paterson Morning Call reported in an article that Maguire should be considered the author of the commemoration. The article also stated that Maguire and McGuire attended the first Labor Day parade in New York City.

The U.S. Department of Labor notes that many people across the country celebrate Labor Day with parades and parties. It also points out that, following a demand by the American Federation of Labor in 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was proclaimed Labor Sunday, thus emphasizing the spiritual and educational activities of the labor movement.

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The origin of Labor day in the United States

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