Nearly everyone today knows of and celebrates Labor Day. It is celebrated annually on the first Monday in September and to most, it signifies the end of summer and beach vacations. This holiday may mean more than you think. What originally brought about Labor Day was actually a result of the momentous labor movement that occurred in the last half of the 19th century.
In the mid-19th century, labor conditions were extremely poor for most workers, especially those employed in the industrial market. During this time, immigrants were flooding into the United States at a massive rate. Housing was limited and expensive. Many times, several families had to crowd into one small apartment. Most families were forced to depend on their children for additional income. The Industrial Revolution had brought about the mass formation of factories throughout the Northeastern portion of the United States. These factories required the employment of many workers, making factory work one of the most common jobs in the era. Factories were also willing to employ women and children, people who would have a difficult time finding steady employment anywhere else. Factory conditions were very harsh. Most workers were required to be at the job for twelve hours per day, six days out of the week. They were allowed only a small break for lunch. The work was intensely tiring and uncomfortable.
One may think that if the work was so terrible, then why did they stay? With so many immigrants in desperate need of a job, it was difficult to find work. If a person complained, they could be fired and replaced easily. People began to realize that if they wanted working conditions to change, they would have to work together. By the 1870s, workers were rallying together and forming labor unions. Thousands of workers would go on strike at one time, and would proceed to march through the streets demanding better pay and shorter working hours. As time passed, organized labor movements became more and more popular, spreading throughout the industrialized cities of the United States.
Labor organization leaders began to plan a holiday that would land on the first Monday in September. This would give workers a holiday between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. On September 5, 1882, Labor Day was first celebrated by a giant parade held in New York City. Twenty thousand workers marched in the parade, carrying signs and banners that displayed the ideas for better working conditions. After the march, everyone celebrated with picnics throughout the city and then when night fell, a grand display of fireworks was the finale of the first Labor Day. Over the years, the idea of Labor Day spread throughout the United States and became more popular. It was voted to become a federal holiday in 1894, and it has been nationally celebrated ever since.
Labor Day may not have the same meaning that it did when it was created, but we can still look back and remember the courageous and spirited people who fought for the rights of the working man.