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Labor Day

This three-day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer. It is a time to rush to the lake is a desperate bid for one last weekend of leisure by the beach. It is a time to race down the road in hopes of experiencing recreation before the chill of fall descends. Oh, yes, there's one other thing: It is a time "celebrate the working class," as one notable encyclopedia put it.

Back in the nineteenth century, 1882 to be exact, the Knights of Labor put on a big parade in New York City. They were honoring the working class. There's quite a debate over whether it was McGuire (cofounder of the American Federation of Labor) or Maguire (some machinist) who brought up the idea of a "labor day." Whoever started the ball rolling, the notion caught on quickly.

By 1884, the first Monday of September was the regular time for their march. The K. of L. resolved to have all future parades on what they now called "Labor Day."

Other groups engaged in the workers. struggle took up the idea and, in March of 1887 Colorado passed the first law establishing Labor Day. New York state, Massachusetts and New Jersey followed, and in 1894 the U.S. Congress made the day a legal national holiday.

Labor leaders and politicians made speeches, workers marched, and we had the beginning of today's Labor Day: but without the traffic jams.

The United States of America, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone, and the Virgin Islands are involved in the USA Labor day. Canada has it's own national holiday, also dating from 1894, with roots going back to the 1870's.

That was eleven decades ago. Class struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries changed things: I don't mind living with a "forty hour week," even if it isn't always exactly forty hours long.

I think that one of the greatest tributes to the success of the industrial age's workers. movements is that so little is made today of the struggle of the workers. That's because they won. Today (Labor Day weekend, 2002), most USA workers aren't striving for basic rights: they're at the lake, fishing.

(I got my historical facts from the 1998 edition of the Encarta Encyclopedia, and the U.S.A. Department of Labor (



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Text is copyright Brian H. Gill 2002


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This page last updated: December 19, 2010