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History of Labor Day

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Table of Contents

What is Labor Day?

Labor Day is a Federal holiday in the United States and other Western countries that honors laborers’ contribution to our society. Outside of U.S., it is known as International Labor Day.

When is Labor Day?

A common feature of summers in North America is the two Federal holidays that bookend the summer. At the end of May, Memorial Day begins the summer, and at the beginning of September, Labor Day ends the summer.

Labor Day Weekend

In the U.S., Labor Day comes on the first Monday of September, and we call the extended weekend Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day History

Labor Day officially became a recognized Federal holiday on June 28, 1894, but there is nearly a half-century of history about the labor movement which precedes this official recognition.

Labor Day’s roots date back to the industrial revolution in the U.S. and labor unions’ rise.

One of Labor Day’s early roots comes from the Central Labor Union (CLU) and the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor.

The Knights of Labor was a secret organization, but the CLU was a centralized organization for multiple labor organizations throughout New York City. On Tuesday, September 5, 1882, the Knights of Labor and the Central Labor Union organized a parade to commemorate labor contributions and bring attention to laborers’ needs. The following year, once again, on September 5th, the CLU held another parade.

With these demonstrations’ success, Matthew Maguire, the secretary of the CLU, advocated for an annual labor day holiday to be held every year on the first Monday of September to be celebrated with picnics and parades.

Other labor leaders began to push for other similar events. Peter J. McGuire, vice president of the American Federation of Labor, started pushing labor unions to organize their own events after witnessing labor parades when visiting Toronto.

Traditionally in Europe, May 1 had been the date to commemorate the rights and needs of labor. May Day, as May 1st was called, was also proposed for a day to promote laborers’ needs and was often called International Workers’ Day. The day was proposed at the 1885 convention of the American Federation of Labor as the date for coordinated strikes to bring attention to improved worker conditions such as adopting the eight-hour workday. The May 1 date became politically charged in 1886 after the Haymarket Riot on May 4.

Debate ensued over which date, May 1, with organized strikes or the first Monday of September with parades and picnics, was the best date to emphasize the needs of workers. Across the United States, various states began to hold labor day recognitions. Oregon became the first to pass a law on February 21, 1887, to create a labor day. Soon other states followed, with Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York creating a Labor Day holiday that same year. Several other states followed suit so that by 1894, twenty-three states had adopted a laborers’ holiday. In that year, Soon Congress passed legislation to create a national holiday. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law, designating the first Monday of September to be a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories.

At first, Labor Day only applied to Federal workers, but later was expanded to include all workers.

Labor Day Traditions

The holiday has since been expanded to be recognized as a day when businesses, banks, schools, and government offices would be closed. Today, Labor Day remains a day dedicated to recognizing the achievements of American workers and their invaluable contribution to American society.

Dates of Labor Day

When is Labor Day 2019?: September 2nd

When is Labor Day 2020?: September 7th

When is Labor Day 2021?: September 6th

When is Labor Day 2022?: September 5th

When is Labor Day 2023?: September 4th

When is Labor Day 2024?: September 2nd

When is Labor Day 2025?: September 1st

When is Labor Day 2026?: September 7th

When is Labor Day 2027?: September 6th

When is Labor Day 2028?: September 4th

When is Labor Day 2029?: September 3rd

When is Labor Day 2030?: September 1st