Laboring the Weekend Away: 124 Years Later
Labor Day Weekend: for many, this three-day weekend represents the final fling of summer. In the high country, it’s the last warm-weather holiday for backyard cookouts before the cooler weather sends people indoors.
While BBQs can be a lot of work, that’s not why it’s called Labor Day. This holiday has paid tribute to the American worker for 124 years. The roots of this celebration can be traced back to a time when the U.S. workforce was experiencing great transition. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and people were trading in their rural farm lives for the dream of a secure, year-round income that came with a factory job. Unfortunately, they often found themselves toiling 12 – 14 hour days in dingy, and sometimes dangerous conditions.
It was his outrage concerning these working conditions that prompted Peter McGuire, a leader of the carpenters union, with the idea of a day for workers to show their solidarity. So in 1882, they had a big parade in New York. Workers showed their disdain for working conditions by carrying signs that read, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for recreation!” The whole happening turned out to be more of a festival than a demonstration. There were picnics and fireworks, plus everyone took the day off from work.
The demonstration was successful in capturing the interest of the nation, motivating President Grover Cleveland to sign a bill making the first Monday in September a national holiday honoring the American worker. Ultimately, his gesture was viewed as political, trying to appease an unhappy constituency concerning his handling of a labor strike at the Pullman Company in Chicago which left 34 people dead. Cleveland’s scheme did not work. While Labor Day was established as a national holiday, the president lost his bid for re-election.