A Look Back at the History of Labor Day - NYCM Insurance Blog

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Sep 7, 2020

A Look Back at the History of Labor Day

To many, Labor Day is known simply as the last holiday of the summer. You may think of it as one more chance to grill out in the late summer’s heat or a few more dips in a warm pool, but there is more to Labor Day than most of us think of during this three-day weekend. To learn about the history of Labor Day, read more below.

Traditionally recognized in the United States on the first Monday in September, Labor Day was created as a day to recognize labor workers following the labor movement of the 19th century, which demanded an end to harsh working conditions, unlivable pay and little time away from the workplace.


During the Industrial Revolution, Americans were working an average of 12 hours or more a day, seven days a week. Although some states enforced age restrictions, children as young as five years old were working in mines, mills and factories, while making a fraction of what their elders earned. People from all ages, but specifically the poor and those newly immigrated to the U.S., were forced to work in unsafe working conditions as their only way to support their families.


Because of these poor working conditions, labor unions, which appeared in the late 18th century, began to speak louder, organizing strikes and rallies against unfair conditions. They protested the small wages and demanded employers reevaluate the number of hours worked and working environments. Oftentimes, these protests ended violently.


On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers united together while taking the day off, unpaid, and marched from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, known today as the first Labor Day Parade. While this date was an important triumph in the history of American workers, as well as an opportunity to spread the word and impact legislation to recognize it in other areas of the country, it did not cease the poor working conditions and small wages everywhere in the U.S.


It wasn’t until 12 years later, in 1894, that the problems American workers faced were brought into the public light. On May 11, 1894, employees at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike as a result of wage cuts and the firing of representatives of their union. One month later, the American Railroad Union boycotted the use of Pullman railway cars, causing railroad traffic nationwide to suffer immensely. As a result, the federal government sent troops to Chicago to assist in controlling and ending the strike, however this effort resulted in more riots, and the deaths of many workers.


On June 28, 1894, two days after the deadly riots in Chicago, President Grover Cleveland signed Labor Day into law as a legal holiday in Washington D.C. and all territories.


While many celebrate Labor Day as we know it today with picnics and parties, it’s important to note that the labor rights we have in the United States have not always been the same. As you take time to enjoy the day, be sure to remember and thank those that paved the way toward the working conditions and regulations we have in the United States today.