The first big Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, by the Central Labor Union of New York. By 1894, thirty states and the federal government officially celebrated Labor Day.
The first documentation of Labor Day described it as "a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations, followed by a festival for the workers and their families".
Following the deaths of 13 union workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland wanted to reconcile with the labor movement. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the Pullman Strike in 1984.
There was some question of which date should be designated as Labor Day. The Central Labor Union of New York and the Knights of Labor had been celebrating Sept. 5th as Labor Day, and many other trade unions and states had followed that example.
Others wanted to set the federal Labor Day on May 1, which is International Workers Day (IWD). International Workers' Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike over the eight hour workday, leaving several demonstrators dead along with several police officers (who were largely killed by friendly fire).
President Grover Cleveland was concerned that setting the federal Labor Day on May 1 would institutionalize the bitter memory of the Haymarket Affair so he offered to support a federal holiday in September. wiki
Labor Day (or Labour Day) is celebrated in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Jamaica, New Zealand, Trinidad, and Syria. International Workers' Day (May Day, May 01) is a national holiday in more than 80 countries
It's kind of an interesting fact that IWD / May Day, widely misunderstood by Americans as a Soviet/Communist initiative, was actually generated in response to Chicago police killing American workers.
To review the opening interrogatories:
What is Labor Day? A celebration of trade and labor unions.
Why is it? Peacemaking after the killing of 13 union workers in the Pullman Strike.
Whose Labor? Organized labor.
Labor Day isn't about generic, euphemistic 'workers'; Labor Day isn't about WalMart employees or subcontractors; Labor Day isn't about freelancers glomming coffeeshop WiFi. Labor Day is about Workers that are Organized Labor, demonstrating their numbers to the public, and encouraging others to organize.
If you'd like to know more about Labor Day, or if you'd like to be able to offer a "teachable moment", you might read any of these articles:
- Haymarket Massacre 1886
- Thibodaux Massacre, 1887
- Homestead Strike, 1892
- Pullman Strike, 1894
- Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, 1911
- Ludlow Massacre, 1914
- Bisbee Deportation, 1917
- Steel Strike of 1919, 1919
- Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921 largest US insurrection since Civil War
- Battle of Toledo, 1934
- Textile Worker's Strike, 1934
- Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, 1937
- NYC Transit Strike, 1966
- PATCO strike, 1981
- Delta Airlines, Unions, and the FAA Shutdown, 2011
Of course, some people think we should just give up the ghost and rename the holiday as Capital Day, making this the Last Labor Day.