RUTLEDGE – Labor Day is a tribute to the American worker.
Created by the labor movement in the late 19th century, the federal holiday was established in 1894 and is celebrated the first Monday in September.
During the industrial revolution in the late 1800s, American laborers needed to work 12 hours for seven days a week in order to make ends meet. Children, often as young as five and six years old, worked in mills, factories and mines across the country despite restrictions in some states. The children earned a fraction of an adult’s wages.
Laborers were often faced with unsafe working conditions and insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
However, as manufacturing began to surpass agriculture as the main source of employment, labor unions began to form. The labor unions organized strikes and rallies to protest poor working conditions and urge employers to reconsider pay and hours. This led to many violent events, including the Haymarket Riot of Chicago in 1886 where several policemen and workers were killed. Other events were the inspiration for long-held traditions, such as the first Labor Day parade in American history September 5, 1882, where 10,000 New Yorkers took unpaid time off to march the streets from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.
The idea of a worker’s holiday was well received in industrial centers across the country and many states legalized the first Monday in September as the day the holiday should be held. Labor Day did not receive Congressional approval until 12 years later when workers’ rights were placed in the spotlight.
Employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest pay cuts and the firing of union representatives May 11, 1894. The strike led to the American Railway Union boycott of Pullman railway cars June 26, 1894, which crippled railway traffic nationwide. Troops were dispatched to Chicago by the federal government, which unleashed a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. In an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day an official holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law June 28, 1894.
Today, Labor Day is celebrated across America with parades, cookouts and firework displays.
Labor Day will be observed Monday, September 6.