Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. Labor Day weekend also symbolizes the end of summer.
In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. They often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities or breaks.
Labor unions, first appeared in the late 18th century and began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Many of these events turned violent and several workers were killed. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. Many states passed legislation recognizing it, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when on May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.
On June 26, the American Railroad Union, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the Pullman strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing 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 a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.
Labor Day is celebrated with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings, but we have forgotten that there was a time when laborers were not treated well. This holidays should be in memory of all those who forged a path for justice.