Why Americans celebrate Labor Day
While most people enjoy a day off of work and school to celebrate Labor Day, the meaning behind the holiday is sometimes forgotten.
Labor Day was officially declared a national holiday around the year 1894 following industrial workers plea for better working conditions.
During the Industrial revolution that occurred in the late 1700’s and early1800’s many workers in the United States worked an average of 12 hours a day during a seven day work week in order to make a basic living. Due to the long hours and lack of a day off during the week, labor unions began to build momentum and voice their opinions on the current working conditions.
In an attempt to persuade employers to reevaluate workers hours and pay, strikes and rallies were organized.
While many of the workers protests turned violent, one in particular paved the way for the nationally recognized holiday now known as Labor Day.
On Sept. 5, 1882 it is recorded that 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, which resulted in the first Labor Day parade in the history of the United States.
After that day the idea of workers having their own holiday started to catch on throughout the industrial centers and many states began passing legislation to recognize the first Monday of each September as Labor Day.
Despite the growing popularity of the workers day off, the holiday would not be nationally declared for about another decade.
The events leading to the national declaration started on May 11, 1894 when employees of Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.
One month later the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars which in turn crippled the railroad traffic nationwide. In response to the strike and boycott, the federal government sent troops to Chicago to break the strike, which let to a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.
In an attempt to mend ties with the laborers following the tragic events in Chicago, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
While now many people associate Labor Day with the end of summer or back-to-school season celebrated by cookouts and other festivities enjoyed by family and friends, in the 19th Century it signified the one success in the long battle to have laborers demands be heard and met.