Why Do We Celebrate
by Marshall Brain
For a lot of people, Labor Day means
two things: a day off and the end of summer. But why is
it called Labor Day? Labor Day is a day set aside
to pay tribute to working men and women. It has been
celebrated as a national holiday in the United States and
Canada since 1894.
Labor unions themselves celebrated the first labor
days in the United States. Historians credit Peter
McGuire, a leader of the carpenters union, with the
original idea of a day for workers to show their
solidarity. The first Labor Day parade occurred Sept. 5,
1882, in New York City. The workers' unions chose the
first Monday in September because it was halfway between
Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The idea spread across
the country, and some states designated Labor Day as a
holiday before the federal holiday was created.
President Grover Cleveland signed a law
designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day
nationwide. This is interesting because Cleveland was not
a labor union supporter. In fact, he was trying to repair
some political damage that he suffered earlier that year
when he sent federal troops to put down a strike by the
American Railway Union at the Pullman Co. in Chicago, IL.
That action resulted in the deaths of 34 workers.
In European countries, China and other parts of the
world, May Day, the first day in May, is a holiday
to celebrate workers and labor unions. Before it became
an international workers holiday, May Day was a
celebration of spring and the promise of summer.
Membership in labor unions in the United States reached
an all-time high in the 1950s when about 40 percent of
the work force belonged to unions. Today, union
membership is about 14 percent of the working population.
Labor Day now carries less significance as a celebration
of working people and more as the end of summer. Schools,
government offices and businesses are closed on Labor Day
so people can get in one last trip to the beach or have
one last cookout before the weather starts to turn
page was last updated August 26, 2003.