Friday, May 1, 2009

The Origin of May Day

Labor Day is truly a global holiday, or as it is known internationally May Day. It’s an annual holiday celebrated all over the world that resulted from the labour union movement, to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers. As the Industrial Revolution took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 1800s worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced.

The roots of Labor Day stretch back to the 1810’s and what was known as the eight hour day movement. Robert Owen, as early as 1817 had formulated the goal of the eight-hour day and coined the slogan Eight hours labor, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest. The first Monday in September is set aside to honor the working men and women of the United States. This holiday is now fully accepted and workers are properly honored but getting to this point in history has been long and rocky. With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Participants took an unpaid day-off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers. As years passed, more states began to hold these parades, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later.

A Labor Day Parade in Buffalo, New York in 1900 =>>

The majority of countries celebrate Labor Day on May 1, and it is popularly known as May Day and International Workers' Day. Labor Day is a day set aside to pay tribute to working men and women. It has been celebrated as a national holiday in the United States and Canada since 1894. On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. They sought support from their union led by Eugene V. Debs and on June 26 the American Railroad Union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Within days, 50,000 rail workers complied and railroad traffic out of Chicago came to a halt. On July 4, President Grover Cleveland dispatched troops to Chicago. Much rioting and bloodshed ensued, but the government's actions broke the strike and the boycott soon collapsed. Debs and three other union officials were jailed for disobeying the injunction. The strike brought worker's rights to the public eye and Congress declared, in 1894, that the first Monday in September would be the holiday for workers, known as Labor Day.

Although there's some speculation as to exactly who came up with the idea, the founder of Labor Day remains unclear. Most historians credit Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, with the original idea of a day for workers to show their solidarity. Others credit Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J. Peter J. McGuire, the secretary of The Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a founder of the American Federation of Labor.

Labor Day has been celebrated as the last, long summer weekend before Autumn, although its actually a celebration of the labor movement and its achievements at that time. The first Labor Day parade occurred Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. The workers' unions chose the first Monday in September because it was halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The idea spread across the country, and some states designated Labor Day as a holiday before the federal holiday was created.
President Grover Cleveland signed a law designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day nationwide. This is interesting because Cleveland was not a labor union supporter. In fact, he was trying to repair some political damage that he suffered earlier that year when he sent federal troops to put down a strike by the American Railway Union at the Pullman Co. in Chicago, IL. That action resulted in the deaths of 34 workers.

In European countries, China and other parts of the world, May Day, the first day in May, is a holiday to celebrate workers and labor unions. Before it became an international workers holiday, May Day was a celebration of spring and the promise of summer. A street parade and festival with amusement s the set practice along with speeches from prominent labor leaders and honorees was the usual happenings. Now, of course these happen too, but it is a holiday and the celebrations are left up to the localities and to individual preference.

Happy Labor Day!

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