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Labor Day, in the United States and Canada, holiday (first Monday in September) honouring workers and recognizing their contributions to society. In many other countries May Day serves a similar purpose.
In the United States, Peter J. McGuire, a union leader who had founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in 1881, is generally given credit for the idea of Labor Day. In 1882 he suggested to the Central Labor Union of New York that there be a celebration honouring American workers. On September 5 some 10,000 workers, under the sponsorship of the Knights of Labor, held a parade in New York City. There was no particular significance to the date, and McGuire said that it was chosen because it fell roughly halfway between the Fourth of July holiday and Thanksgiving.
In 1884 the Knights of Labor adopted a resolution that the first Monday in September be considered Labor Day. The idea quickly spread, and by the following year Labor Day celebrations were being held in a number of states. Oregon became the first state, in 1887, to grant legal status to the holiday (although the state initially celebrated it on the first Saturday in June).
That same year Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey established the holiday on the first Monday in September, and other states soon followed. In 1894 the Pullman strike in Illinois, as well as a series of unemployed workers’ riots on May Day in Cleveland, prompted U.S. Pres. Grover Cleveland to propose a bill that would make Labor Day a national public holiday. The bill, which was crafted in part to deflect attention from May Day (an unofficial observance rooted in socialist movements), was signed into law in June of that year.
what is the history of labor day
Over the years, particularly as the influence of unions waned, the significance of Labor Day in the United States changed. For many people it became an end-of-summer celebration and a long weekend for family get-togethers. At the same time, it has continued to be celebrated with parades and speeches, as well as political rallies, and the day is sometimes the official kickoff date for national political campaigns.
A Short History of America’s First Labor Day Celebration
On the first Monday of September, Americans celebrate Labor Day by attending barbecues and other outdoor festivities. With the holiday comes cooler weather, a return to school, and (according to sartorial rules) the end of wearing white.
But the history of the holiday has nothing to do with fashion or the changing of seasons. Nearly 140 years ago, Labor Day was a call to action by workers’ unions to improve 19th-century labor conditions.
The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The idea was proposed by the Central Labor Union (CLU), a consortium of labor unions within New York and New Jersey that fought against low wages, unfair hours, unsafe working environments and child labor. The CLU wanted to organize a street parade to celebrate labor organizations and draw awareness to workers’ rights.
Most Americans associate Labor Day with the end of summer. But the holiday was originally a form of worker activism during a period of rapid industrialization. Solidarity, not barbecue, was the buzzword back then.
The 1882 event began with a march in Manhattan from City Hall to Union Square. According to local newspapers, 10,000 to 20,000 workers from various trade organizations participated in the parade, including unions representing jewelers, painters, dock builders, cigar-makers and typographers.
Many participants held signs advocating for workers’ rights, such as “Eight hours a legal day’s work,” “Labor must use the ballot” and “To the workers should belong the wealth.” As they marched, bands performed songs such as “When I First Put My Uniform On.”
Local papers described seamstresses and other laborers opening their windows along the parade route, waving handkerchiefs and cheering in solidarity with the marchers.
The day concluded with festivities in Elm Park. Between 20,000 and 50,000 workers and their families spent the afternoon enjoying food and drink, along with live music and dancing.
While the event did include fun and festivities, the holiday was also a form of political action. The CLU deliberately chose to hold the parade on a workday so that those who participated could give up a day’s pay in symbolic support for improved working conditions and fairer wages.
Why Can’t You Wear White After Labor Day?
While Labor Day might be a federal holiday to celebrate American employees, it also marks an important date in the sartorial calendar.
As the age old adage goes, Labor Day marks the last day in the calendar year that fashionistas should don white.
But where does the rule come from, and can you really not wear white after Labor Day?
Why Can’t You Wear White After Labor Day?
Truthfully, there is nothing to stop you wearing whatever you want, whenever you want but there are a couple of theories as to wear the sartorial rule comes from.
The first is to do with practicality.
As Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September, it marked the end of the traditional summer and beginning of autumn.
In the early to mid-20th Century, with no air-conditioning, wearing white was an easy way to keep cool, swapping these lighter clothes for fabrics with darker hues as the temperature began to chill.