Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated the first Monday in September. This year’s observance is on Sept. 7
1. Labor Day has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. In the late 1800s, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven days a week to eke out a basic living. Children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories and mines. Working conditions were often unsafe and unsanitary. Labor unions began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and low wages.
The idea of a “workingman’s holiday” gained favor in many states.
2. The first state law recognizing the Labor Day holiday was passed by Oregon in 1887. By 1894, more than half the states had adopted the holiday to honor workers and in that year Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
The designation didn’t come easily — or willingly. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. The American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. The federal government dispatched troops to Chicago to break the strike, resulting in riots that killed more than a dozen workers. The Congressional act was an attempt to repair ties with American workers.
3. The founder of Labor Day is still in debate. Some records credit Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor for first suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
Recent research, according to the Department of Labor, credits Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., who proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
4. Everyone doesn’t get a day off. To take advantage of potential customers free to shop, Labor Day has become an important weekend for retail sales. Some claim it is second only to Black Friday in sales. Retail workers — more than 24 percent of all workers in the U.S. — may work harder and longer on Labor Day.
5. Labor Day impacts fashion — or it did in years past. The rule that white cannot be worn after Labor Day has relaxed in recent years. The origin of the tradition is uncertain. It may have been a matter of convenience — white is more comfortable to wear in hot weather than black — or wearing white in rainy, snowy weather is just asking for splotches. Some suggest that the wearing of white was a form of social segregation, separating the wealthy from those less fortunate.
Sources: U.S. Department of Labor, history.com, Wikipedia, bustle.com