Labor Day Parades
U.S. DOL - The
History of Labor Day)
The form that the observance and celebration of
Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal
of the holiday -- a street parade to exhibit to the
public "the strength and esprit de corps of the
trade and labor organizations" of the community,
followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement
of the workers and their families. This became the
pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by
prominent men and women were introduced later, as more
emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic
significance of the holiday.
Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation
of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor
Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the
spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.
The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone
a change in recent years, especially in large industrial
centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved
a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in
emphasis and medium of expression.
This being But real the spirit remains the same. Labor
Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists,
educators, clerics and government officials are given
wide coverage in newspapers, radio and television.
Labor Day: Labor
first parade was not held on a Monday, but on Tuesday,
September 5, 1882 in New York City. The parade was
repeated annually without interruption, but not always on
a Monday, until several states and then the Congress in
1894, settled on the first Monday in September.
first parades were really protest rallies for the
adoption of the 8-hour day, rather than the, often tame
civic events they have involved into. Participants had to
give up a day's pay in order to march. The New York City
Central Labor Union (CLU) even levied a fine on
In 1882, the New York City CLU was a lodge of the
still-secret Knights of Labor, with a progressive tailor,
Robert Blissert at its head. His right-hand man and
Secretary of the CLU was Mathew Maguire, a machinist. The
parade was timed to coincide with a national Kinghts of
Labor conference being held in New York. This accounts
for the presence of almost the entire K of L leadership
on the reviewing stand. But their affiliation with labor
was masked for the reporters who covered the parade.
Grand Master Workman Terrence Powderley, for example, was
introduced as the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which
he, in fact, was.
parade Call and all invitations were sent out over the
signature of Mathew Maguire. During the post-parade
picnic at Wendel's Elm Park, P.J. McGuire of the
Carpenters, was one of many speakers; but he does not
figure during the planning for the parade. By the 1890's,
when the Knights of Labor had all but disappeared, and
Samuel Gompers' American Federation of Labor was the
dominant labor organization, the folklore about the
origins of labor's holiday began.
Robert Blisset was no longer a labor activist. He had
become a custom tailor with his own shop in Manhattan.
Mathew Maguire had moved to New Jersey, where he became
very active in the Socialist Labor Party. P.J. McGuire
became a member of the AFL Carpenters' hierarchy. Gompers
simply re-wrote history to conform to the spirit of his
new American Federation of Labor by crediting P.J.
McGuire with the Labor Day Parade idea.
the AFL was very non-political, the fact that Mathew
Maguire had the effrontery to run as the Vice
Presidential candidate on the National Socialist Labor
Party ticket in 1896 erased his chances of recognition as
the father of Labor Day. Blissert was conveniently out of
the Labor Movement.
U.S. DOL - The
History of Labor Day)
"Labor Day differs in every essential from
the other holidays of the year in any country. All
other holidays are in a more or less degree connected
with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of
strife and discord for greed and power, of glories
achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day...is
devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or
-- Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the
American Federation of Labor.
Yes, that is what Labor Day stands for. True, things have
changed these days with Labor Day being celebrated with
the civic events usually associated with national
holidays in America. But behind all the usual fun and
fiesta of a national holiday, the Day has a unique
Traditionally, parades, and speeches by labor leaders and
political figures, mark Labor Day celebrations. The
spirit is to pay a national tribute to the contributions
workers have made to the power and prosperity of America.
page was last updated August 26, 2003.