Baker’s Dozen – Fun Facts About Labor Day

As we celebrate a three-day weekend, let’s remember those who are responsible for this holiday.

1)  According to the U.S. DOL, there is some debate over who came up with the original idea for Labor Day – Peter J. McGuire, a member and one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist and an officer with the International Association of Machinists.

2)  It is accepted that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and planned a demonstration and picnic, and the first Labor Day was observed on September 5, 1882.  The Central Labor Union, which was the nation’s first major trade union,  is the precursor to the AFL -CIO.

3)  In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the date for the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged other labor unions and groups to celebrate the “workingman’s holiday”.

4)  Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 following the deaths of 37 workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman strike.  The Pullman strike was a wildcat strike that eventually involved over 125,000 workers who were protesting reductions in wages and increases in working days to over 16 hours.  Railroad executives refused to talk to labor groups as they used reductions in labor expenses to offset plummeting profits.

5)  George Pullman, a railway executive, was so unpopular with labor that when he died in 1897, he was buried at night in a lead-lined coffin with a reinforced steel and concrete vault.  Several tons of concrete were put in place presumably to prevent his body from being exhumed and desecrated by labor activists.

6)  President Grover Cleveland, fearing further conflict, rushed legislation, making Labor Day a national holiday, through Congress.  Congress passed the legislation, unanimously, and Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.  The U.S. DOL does not mention these facts in its discussion of the founding of Labor Day.

7)  President Cleveland’s handling of the Pullman strike is at least partly responsible for him serving two non-consecutive terms as President of the United States.  He won three elections to the Presidency, but is the only person to be counted twice (22nd and 24th) as President since his last term came after Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd person to serve as President.

8)  The original holiday celebrated the accomplishments of the labor and trade organizations, but has gradually evolved to celebrate the individual worker.

9)  While New York was the first state to propose legislation to make Labor Day a holiday, Oregon was the first state to pass a law recognizing Labor Day as a statutory holiday.

10)  Unlike some other Federal holidays, Labor Day is recognized in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

11)  Parades, barbecues, end of summer activities, and speeches by pro-labor politicians and activists are part of many Labor Day celebrations.  Labor Day, historically, was considered the last day of the year when it is fashionable for women to wear white.

12)  Labor Day also signals the symbolic end of summer and used to be the last day of summer prior to children going back to school.  Today, however, many schools start in August.  In our district, school started on August 8, a full four weeks before Labor Day.

13)  Much of our nation’s strength has come on the backs of hard working American workers who often had to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions.  Let us all pay tribute on Labor Day to each other and all American workers.

Happy Labor Day Everyone!

Sources: U.S. DOL, Wikipedia

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