Monday, September 1, 2008

A History of Labor Day

  Walter Reuther
The celebration of Labor Day originated in Canada in the 1800s when a parade of support for the Typographical Union was held in Toronto in 1872. The union was striking for a 58-hour work week. Several support strikes followed, and in 1873, the Canadian Parliament passed the Trade Union Act which was designed to repeal anti-union laws. Celebrations originally were held in the spring, coinciding with May Day Workers Celebrations held in other parts of the world.

Peter J. McGuire
In July of 1882, the Toronto Trades and Labour Council invited the president of the American Federation of Labor, Peter J. McGuire, to speak at a labor festival. In September of 1882, McGuire and the Knights of Labor organized a similar parade in New York City, the first "Labor Day Parade" in the United States. Although anti-union, United States President Grover Cleveland was forced into making Labor Day a holiday
in 1894 after several strikes in the United States; notably the Pullman Railroad Workers Strike in Chicago which halted mail delivery. In June of that year, Congress passed a bill that made the first Monday of
September a National Labor Day Holiday. The holiday has historically been celebrated with a parade followed by picnics. Over the years, labor and political leaders were the featured speakers. In the 1930s
and through World War II, the labor movement strengthened, especially in Detroit Michigan, where Walter Reuther helped negotiate benefits such as paid vacation time and sick leave.

Labor Day Parade in Detroit in the 1950s
From the 1940s through the 1960s, it became a tradition for Democratic Party candidates to officially launch their general election campaigns in Detroit, boosted by strong union support. But throughout the 1970s,
the clout of the union leaders dwindled, and the dwindling attendance at the Detroit parades caused their cancellation until 1981.

Meanwhile, the Labor Day march across the Mackinac Bridge, led by the governor of Michigan, became the new tradition. Today, both parades/marches are simultaneously held, and the Democratic candidates
participate. Labor Day Weekend is also celebrated as the "last weekend of summer", and the picnics and festivals still abound; a recognition of the Canadian and American workers and the better working conditions
and benefits for which they negotiated and fought.

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1 comment:

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