Like many stories about influential Americans long ago, the story about why we celebrate Labor Day starts with a poor upbringing and a will for change.
The man’s name was Peter J. McGuire, and long before he was a union leader in New York, he was an underprivileged son of Irish immigrants. Throughout his life, he faced and overcame adversity.
Once he’d moved into adulthood during the Technological Revolution, he establish a career as a carpenter, political activist and trade unionist. He fought for things like the eight-hour workday and fair working conditions. By the early months of 1882, he approached the Central Labor Union in New York about creating a day to celebrate the American worker. He had a vision for recognizing the people that built his homeland.
Merely months later, on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, New Yorkers gathered in the streets — rather than going to work — to celebrate their hard labor with a parade, culminating in a concert and picnic. It’s said that more than 10,000 workers took place in the celebration.
Cities across the nation took notice, and over the next several years others began to create their own unofficial holidays. What started as a great idea morphed into a movement.
By 1894, the federal government couldn’t help but acknowledge the acceptance of the celebration in cities and towns from coast to coast, and that’s when it officially established the national holiday as Labor Day.
In many ways, there’s no holiday that embodies the American spirit more than Labor Day. It’s a bold statement, I know, but think about it.
From its founding, America has been a land of grit, ambition and prosperity. Its people earned every inch of success awarded to them through hard work and determination. The work ethic began with the very first settlers, coming to a land of opportunity, as they saw it, and building cities and industry from scratch. Labor Day is an extension of that perseverance. It was meant to recognize and reward the toughness and work that went into building this country, and it continues to celebrate the hard-working men and women who drive us forward today.
Don’t look at it as just another holiday off the job — let it signify a well-deserved day off to honor all the work we’ve completed, and most importantly all the success to which that work has led.
7 thoughts on “Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day in the United States?”
This is an important day, especially in today’s union-busting, anti-labor environment. Who do they think built this country anyway? I frequently reflect on my father, who was both a union president and a Republican. This is an impossibility in today’s political reality and shows how far we have degenerated from the centrist philosophy which existed when I was a boy.
Nice topic, thank you for writing about this, I never knew!