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Digital History ID 3196

 

Labor Day, the holiday honoring America's workingmen and women, is today regarded as a day of rest and recreations signaling the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Calls for a Labor Day had begun as early as 1869. But it was not until 1882 that the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City, under the sponsorship of the Knights of Labor. Ten thousand men and women marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. The holiday was intended to fill the gap between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving and to demonstrate labor's strength.

The first Labor Day parade was organized by Peter J. McGuire, a New York City carpenter, who founded not only the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, but also the English-speaking branch of the Socialist Labor Party, and by Matthew Maguire, a machinist from Patterson, N.J., who later became the first Socialist Labor Party member elected to public office (as an alderman in Patterson, N.J).

The parade drew the following negative reaction in a New York newspaper:

A large force of working men of this city and neighborhood indulged in a parade and picnic yesterday, apparently for the purpose of enjoying a holiday, and at the same time making an exhibition of numerical strength.

At the time, there was debate about when a holiday should be held. In 1888, labor leaders from several countries picked May 1 as International Labor Day, to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre, a gathering of 10,000 people that began peacefully on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. By that evening, The Chicago Herald described a scene of "wild carnage" and estimated at least fifty dead or wounded civilians lay in the streets along with at sixty policemen.

In 1894, in the midst of the Pullman strike, Congress established a national labor day by unanimous vote. Six days after signing the act into law, Cleveland sent several thousand deputies to Chicago to enforce a court injunction barring workers from interrupting delivery of the mail.

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