Why we observe Labor Day

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Frank McVay
  • 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
Labor Day, at least in the United States, marks the unofficial end of summer and to most, the opportunity to have the "last fling of summer."

Labor Day is observed as a legal holiday on the first Monday in September throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada.

In Australia, Labor Day is called Eight Hour Day, and it commemorates the successful struggle for a shorter working day. In Europe, Labor Day is observed May 1, also known as May Day.

In the United States, most people observe this national holiday by having a day off work, participating in many outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends.
But how did this day of leisure, that was created through the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American worker, come to be?

More than 100 years after the first observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers. There are two men who played an important role in bringing the first Labor Day parade to New York City in September 1882.

Some records indicate Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first to suggest a day to honor the working man.

Many believe Matthew Maguire, a machinist, actually founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Patterson, N.J., proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

What is clear is the Central Labor Union adopted the Labor Day proposal and planned a demonstration and picnic.

After the first Labor Day celebration, the Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just one year later on Sept. 5, 1883. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected and the Central Labor Union urged other similar organizations in other cities to celebrate as well. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations in many industrial centers across the country.

In the mid to late 1880s, labor organizations began to lobby various state legislatures to recognize Labor Day as an official state holiday.

In 1887, the first states to declare it a state holiday were Oregon, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday.

An early form of observance and celebration of the holiday focused on a street parade to demonstrate the "strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," which followed with a festival for the workers and their families.

Today the large parades have diminished, especially in the large industrial centers where huge parades are impractical. Most Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, politicians, educators and government officials are given wide coverage through newspapers, radio and television.

Labor Day is observed in many countries and perhaps celebrated in many different ways, but one thing is common ... it's dedicated in honor of the worker.

The hard work of the labor force in the United States has ensured the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy.
It is only appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute to those who have contributed so much to the nation's strength, freedom and leadership.

The holiday was established in respect and appreciation to those who work in or outside the home, union or non-union, big company, small company or government.
As long as you work somewhere at something, this holiday is for you ... the American worker.