Labor Day: The Work of the Labor Unions

Warren Tribune, PA 1927
Warren Tribune, PA 1927

National Labor Day.

In 1883 Mr. P.J. McGuire of New York, originated the idea of an annual celebration in all the Union by members of the various trades and labor organizations. Further, the time to be fixed for this should be the first Monday in September. Mrssrs. P.J. McGuire, Samuel Gompers and Robert Blissert were the principal framers of the plan adopted, and these gentlemen, prominent workers in the labor cause, first gave it publicity.

The day was to be a grand holiday, like the Fourth of July or Christmas. It was to be celebrated by music, festivals, speaking and great processions of the labor organizations. The parades were to be a leading feature. Members of all the industrial trades, formed in battalions and divisions, were to march through the streets, with music playing and banners flying. Upon the banners were to be inscribed terse words, showing the mottoes and aims of the great labor unions. Among such were the following:

“Compulsory Education,” “No Child Labor,” “Sanitary Inspection of Factories,” “Eight Hours a Day.”

The idea caught the public favor at once. That first year and every year since Labor day has been celebrated. It grows in favor, and its observance becomes annually more imposing. No more instructive or interesting sight is witnessed than these long battalions of faithful workers. Some of the bands are white faced and stooped from long hours of bending over indoor tasks. Others are ruddy and strong and erect. Far too many, as they march, show the cramping, stiffening effect of years of toil on their muscles.

Labor day is now a legal holiday in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, California and sever other states. It should be set apart in all the states as the day belonging to those who make the nation’s wealth.

The News (Frederick, Maryland) Aug 27, 1889

Image from www.ashp.cuny.edu

One of the mottos borne in the Labor Day parade in Chicago read:

“eight hours’ work, eight hours’ pay, eight hours’ sleep and eight dollars a day.”

When these conditions come to pass the millenium will not be far off.

Edwardsville Intelligencer (Edwardsville, Illinois) Sep 14, 1892

LABOR Day pic 1941

LABOR DAY ANNIVERSARY.

The first of September is a very fitting time for the “Labor Day” observance. It is the beginning of the harvest season when the fruits of the earth are gathered into barns, and the reward of the year’s husbandry is paid to agricultural toil, from of old and ever to be the only essential provider for human want.

And it is well to observe “Labor Day” with gratitude and jubilation, as it was well for this nation to observe Fourth of July. But, as Fourth of July was devoted to a consideration of the causes and the obligations of American independence, so it were well for “Labor Day” to consider how it was and by what means its present advantageous estate has come to be.

It has taken much time to bring round this festivity of labor. Reckoning from the birth of Christ at Bethlehem in Judea, nearly nineteen hundred years have labored to bring it forth. And but for the transforming power of those years of ministry, but for that birth in the manger and that death on the cross, not nineteen centuries, but much more extended and weary travail would have awaited human labor, before, in this land and in this time, it could have had any such anniversary as it now observes. Outside of all theology and creeds, as the most certain fact in history, the beginning of the amelioration of labor starts from the person and the message of the Son of Man. Of all mankind, those who have been bowed down and heavy laden should most revere and cherish that benignant goodness and wisdom.

But it has not been wholly the institutions directly connected with christianity, from which the amelioration of labor had come. That liberation and development of the human mind which christianity has caused has contributed in these later centuries more visibly than the church. For, left to its own resources, there is nothing in the mere numbers of human labor that would have brought it to what of advantage it now enjoys. It is because the constantly increasing intelligence of mankind in the end benefits labor, that its past has been progressive and its future is bright with hope.

Despite christianity, it was not until the use of gunpowder in warfare that the toiling masses of Europe had any fair chance of freedom. The warrior aristocracies in their suits of ma??, and trained to arms as a jealously exclusive profession, could never have been thrust from their place of power by the multitudes whose labor they exacted and whose gains they lavished. Gunpowder was the first great equalizer of persons, and modern democracy begins with its use in war.

*emphasis mine

But gunpowder could not undo all the past. It had been in use several hundred years before the Reign of Terror in France, and labor had its heaviest burdens still to bear. For that outburst of tumult and revenge was but the recoil of outraged and overburned human toil, forced upon one-third of the soil of France, and under most oppressive restrictions, to support in idleness and waste the Nobles and the Clergy, who monopolized all privileges and occupied two-thirds of the land.

Clearly invention and intelligence alone could not deliver labor from the pit into which it had fallen, or rather had been forced. Besides aid, it needed opportunity, and this it could not find in Europe where aristocracy and privilege were organized and intrenched. This opportunity the United States has furnished to a greater degree than the world has thus far known.

But here also the conflict of rival principles had to be fought out. In the Mayflower came republican institutions based upon free and respected labor, and at Jamestown, in Virginia, was begun the toil of slaves. Our civil war grew out of these two facts, and was fought for the cause of labor. In that war the Mayflower and the Pilgrims triumphed, and labor has the benefit of the blood and the treasure that were spent.

If anywhere in this world among human institutions and the places connected with their birth, the reverence and gratitude of laboring men should go out toward Plymouth Rock, and the principles of government and social order which the founders of Massachusetts first planted on this soil. If any state should have the loyalty of its laboring men, Massachusetts should. If any citizenship should feed constantly from the fount of early purpose and aspiration, her citizenship should. And, of all her citizens, those who celebrate “Labor Day” should most reverently do this, for under her leadership and influence has come to them most of what that anniversary stands for.

North Adams Transcript (North Adams, Massachusetts) Sep 2, 1895

P.J. McGuire - 1896
P.J. McGuire – 1896

TOILERS HONORED BY AMERICA FIRST

SAMUEL GOMPERS GIVES OUT INTERESTING HISTORY OF LABOR DAY.

FIRST OBSERVED IN 1882 IN NEW YORK CITY — NOW NATIONAL HOLIDAY

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 4. — Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the American Federation of Labor, gave out for publication today some interesting historical matter on the observation of Labor Day.

“Undoubtedly the first suggestion of setting apart a day in each year to be observed as Labor Day,” said Mr. Gompers, “was conceived by the late P.J. McGuire, who was at that time secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. The suggestion occurred during the period when the Knights of Labor was in existence, P.J. McGuire being a member of that organization.

“Writing for the American Federationist in 1902 P.J. McGuire had this to say:

“‘Pagan feast and Christian observance have come down to us through the long ages. But it was reserved for this country, and for the American people, to give birth to Labor Day. In this they honor the toilers of the earth, and pay homage to those who from rude nature have delved and carved all the comfort and grandeur we behold.

“‘More than all, the thought, the conception, yes, the very inspiration of this holiday came from men in the ranks of the working people, men active in uplifting their fellows and leading them to better conditions. It came from a little group in New York City, the Central Labor Union, which had just been formed, and which in later years attained widespread influence.

“‘On May 8, 1882, the writer made the proposition. He urged the propriety of setting aside one day in the year to be designated as ‘Labor Day,’ and to be established as a general holiday for the laboring classes. He advised the day should first be celebrated by a street parade, which would publicly show the strength and esprit du corps of the trade and labor organizations. Next the parade should be followed by a picnic of a festival in some grove the proceeds of the same to be divided on this semi-co-operative plan.”

“It was further argued Labor Day should be observed as one festal day in the year for public tribute to the genius of the American industry. There were other worthy holidays representative of the religions, civil and military spirit. But non representative of the industrial spirit, the great vital force of every nation.

He suggested the first Monday in September of every year for such a holiday, as it would come at the most pleasant season of the year nearly midway between the fourth of July and Thanksgiving and would fill a wide gap in the chronology of legal holidays. Many were the cogent reasons he advanced and at once the idea was enthusiastically embraced.

The first Labor Day parade and festival of the Central Labor Union of New York City on September 5, 1882, was simply an imposing success. From that day on, it became a fixed institution in the United States observed today in every city of the land. The plan was next endorsed by the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor and the general assembly of the Knights of Labor. IT spread rapidly from city to city and from town to town. City councils and state legislatures took it up and made it a legal holiday, until finally, June 28, 1894, it became a national holiday by act of congress.

“The initial action taken setting apart one day in the year on which to review the activities and beneficial influence of Organized Labor occurred at the afternoon meeting of the third day of the fourth annual session of the Federation, October 9, 1884, the convention being held in Schloesser’s Hall, Chicago, Ill. The resolution creating Labor Day was introduced in the convention by A.C. Cameron, a delegate from the Chicago Trades and Labor Assembly, and was as follows:

“‘Resolved, that the first Monday in September of each year be set apart as a laborers’ national holiday, and that we recommend its observance by all wage-workers, irrespective of sex, calling, or nationality.’***”

Eau Claire Leader (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) Sep 5, 1915

Decatur Weekly Republican  29 Oct 1896
Decatur Weekly Republican 29 Oct 1896

LABOR DAY’S ANNIVERSARY.

The first Labor Day was instituted in 1887, when the New York legislature passed an act recognizing that occasion as a holiday. But the movement for this occasion may fairly celebrate its semi-centennial this year, since it was in 1882 that Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor union of New York, began correspondence with various labor unions, in the effort to secure such a public occasion.

The original idea of the movement was to establish a public occasion which should dignify labor, call attention to the needs and rights of wage-earners, strengthen their organizations, and encourage them in their struggle for better conditions.

Since that time enormous progress has been made by the workers. Hours of labor, which were inordinately long, have been greatly reduced. Working conditions have been made healthier and pleasanter. Women and children are protected from the more severe demands of toil. Wages average three to four times as much as was ordinarily paid 50 years ago. The wage-earners of the country enjoy many benefits that the workers of 50 years ago never dreamed of.

The Frederick Post (Frederick, Maryland) Sep 3, 1932

squiggle

A PRINTER THE LEADER

First Labor Day Parade Was Held Sept. 5, 1882

The first celebration of Labor day in America was on Sept 5, 1882, when a parade was held in New York under the auspices of the newly organized Central Labor union of the metropolis. P.J. McGuire first made the suggestion of a parade of organized labor. William McCabe, who was chosen to lead the procession as grand marshal, had only a small company of men behind him when the parade started from City Hall; and they came in for much jeering from the crowd. At Astor Place a number of organizations joined the marchers, and when the parade passed in review at Union Square there were 2,500 men in line. William McCabe, the leader of this pioneer parade of organized toilers, was a printer by trade, and a native of New Zealand. Coming to America in 1840, when two years old, his parents settled in California. At the age of fifteen he enlisted in a cavalry troop which served in the civil war. Later he fought the Indians in the northwest, and then received a commission in the patriot army of Mexico, which was engaged in driving out the European invaders. He then became a printer, first in San Francisco and later in New York. P.J. McGuire, the father of Labor day, was for some time secretary of the American federation of labor, and worked unremittingly to secure the general adoption of the labor holiday.

During recent years also, the labor movement has become less disposed to seek its ends by fighting employers, more disposed to get results by co-operating with them. With that plan, it will go on to still greater successes, as little is usually gained when the industries are tied up by strikes.

It is a delightful thing to see our people enjoying the Labor holiday, though this year, unfortunately, many idle ones have had more holidays than they desire. However, that is probably only a temporary misfortune. Labor day, 1933, with the prospects for improvement now in sight, should see the annual September holiday welcome as a pleasant relief from toil.

Tyrone Daily Herald (Tyrone, Pennsylvania) Sep 4, 1916

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One Response to “Labor Day: The Work of the Labor Unions”

  1. Historic Labor Day Pictures and Graphics | Of Taste and Discernment Says:

    […] Labor Day Vintage News blog Yester Year Once More:Ā www.yesteryearsnews.wordpress.com/… […]

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