Labor Day History

History of Labor Day Holiday Intertwines Work & Leisure
by Sam Johnson

     It's our final summer fling with family or friends before we must face our long list of autumnal duties -- raking leaves, cleaning windows, and preparing for the onslaught of winter.
      For many, Labor Day Weekend is one of the few opportunities during the year to break up the grueling tedium produced by a routinely long workweek -- one that has actually increased over the past 40 years.
      According to a recent Harris study comparing American work and leisure, we have lost ten hours of leisure time per week over this same period, and have lost 4 hours of leisure per week in just the past 5 years.
     In 2007 we averaged 20 hours of leisure per week. But today, the average hours of leisure per week has decreased to 16.
     Today, the average adult worker spends 46 hrs. per week at their job, and just 16 hours involved with leisure activities.
     It's no wonder then, that Labor Day has become one of America's favorite holidays, providing a three-day escape from the rigors of the workplace and a chance to enjoy the last glories of summer.
     And that's in part what the Labor Day holiday was intended to do -- provide a day off for those who labored long and hard in the days before the 40-hour workweek.
     For centuries, the laborer was considered nothing more than a dispensable instrument in an impersonal industrial and agricultural setting. It has only been within the last hundred years that laborers have become increasingly valued for their individual contributions and given some recognition and respect for their accomplishments.
     The idea for a day celebrating labor is attributed to Peter J. McGuire.
     Born the tenth child of a poor Irish-American family in 1852, McGuire went to work at the age of 11 to help support his family. He worked long hours in the factories of New York and even at a young age supported the move towards an eight-hour workday.
     Continuing his support for laborers, McGuire became an active leader in the Knights of Labor founded in 1869, and president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
     It was during this time McGuire proposed a special day -- a "Labor Day" -- be set aside to honor workers. He felt it should be "a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American industry."

     McGuire maintained that since the United States already set aside special holidays to commemorate "the religious, civil and military spirit" of the nation, it was only fitting that special attention should likewise be paid to the industrial spirit of our country -- "that great vital force of our nation."
     Supported by fellow workers, McGuire officially proposed the idea of a "Labor Day" to the New York Central Labor Union in May 1882, suggesting that it take place on the first Monday in September.
     His reason for selecting that particular day was that "it would come at the most pleasant season of the year, nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving and would fill a wide gap in the chronology of legal holidays."
     His proposal met with tremendous support, and the first Labor Day parade was held that fall, Sept. 5, 1882 with over 10,000 people taking part.
     In fact, his idea was so well received it was repeated again the following year, and soon other states joined in.
     By 1894, 30 states had instituted a Labor Day holiday, and by 1928 every state in the union except Wyoming had established the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
     Certainly tremendous progress has been made since the days of Peter J. McGuire on behalf of the workers of America to help them gain better working conditions, better benefits, and to gain the respect and recognition they justly deserve.
     But there are still challenges to meet.
     While it may be true that over 1.1 million new jobs have been created in the private sector over the last decade, the unemployment rate today is at a painfully high rate of nine percent, and there are millions of people who want to work but are unemployed and unable to celebrate the true meaning of Labor Day.
     This weekend as we celebrate "Labor Day" to honor American workers, and enjoy a well deserved day off from the part that WE play in this effort, we might also be mindful of those who cannot find work.
      Certainly a nation so prosperous and proud should be able to find the means and motivation to help all its members be prosperous and proud.


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