In the Labor Day Five:

  1. Some history on how it started
  2. Three important moments in Labor Day history
  3. Eleanor Roosevelt’s connection to Labor Day
  4. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last campaign was for labor
  5. Is Labor Day still about labor?



Labor Day History


USA Today reports that Labor Day had its beginnings in New York City in 1882 but that Congress didn’t make it a federal holiday until 1894, after the U.S. Army and the American Railway Union, which was on strike against the Pullman Company, had a violent and deadly clash. Congress took the action at the urging of President Grover Cleveland.

On Sept. 5, 1882 — a Tuesday — 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march in a parade from City Hall to Union Square in New York City as a tribute to American workers. Organized by New York’s Central Labor Union, it was the country’s first unofficial Labor Day parade. Three years later, some city ordinances marked the first government recognition, and legislation soon followed in a number of states.

Read more at USA Today.


New York, New Jersey and Colorado Led the Way

New York, New Jersey and Colorado first officially recognized Labor Day in 1887, Time magazine says.

But even before then, the holiday’s origins are evident in parades and picnics that supported labor issues and workers’ rights. Linda Stinson, a former historian for the U.S. Department of Labor, described one parade in particular as “pivotal” to the holiday’s history: Various unions in New York City joined together for a “monster labor festival” on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882. Ahead of the celebration, the Central Labor Union passed a resolution, declaring that “the 5th of September be proclaimed a general holiday for the workingmen in this city.” An estimated 10,000 people marched in the parade, many losing a day’s pay in order to participate.

Read more at Time.


First Lady and Card-Carrying Union Member

When first lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a newspaper column, she became a member of the American Newspaper Guild, CIO, and remained a member for 25 years, according to the History News Network.

In 1940, as FDR sought an unprecedented third term, she wrote in her syndicated My Day column that “To me and to every citizen of the United States, Labor Day must be one of the most significant days on our calendar. On this day we should think with pride of the growing place which the worker is taking in this country…. This is as it should be in a democracy and it is the surest way of proving that we intend to preserve democracy.”

Read more at History News Network.


Martin Luther King Jr. Stood Up for Labor

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968, the reason he was visiting the city was to support black garbage collectors, who were on strike over unsafe working conditions, abusive white supervisors and low wages.

Today we view King as something of a saint, his birthday a national holiday, and his name adorning schools and street signs. But in his day, the establishment considered King a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media. He began his activism in Montgomery, Alabama, as a crusader against the nation’s racial caste system, but the struggle for civil rights radicalized him into a fighter for broader economic and social justice.

Read more at The Huffington Post.


Labor’s Influence Has Steadily Declined

For most Americans, Labor Day is no longer about supporting unions and collective bargaining. Instead, it has become a holiday to mark the end of summer with barbecues and trips to the beach.

Last year, only 11.1 percent of workers were unionized, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, the first year comparable union membership data was available, membership was at 20.1 percent.

Read more at Chicago Tribune.

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