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Labor Day - A Working Man's Holiday

Published August 30, 2007        by Nicole

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. In 1884 the first Monday in September was chosen as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingman's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Through the years the nation began to give more and more emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 2l, l887. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. National Labor Day was born off the labor movement during the late 19th century.

Starting with nine tailors in Philadelphia on December 9, 1869, the Knights of Labor wanted to promote a unionism to embrace all workers, skilled and unskilled, in a single labor organization. They stressed organization, education, and political agitation as the best means to build a new society. Despite their progressive outlook their philosophy did not keep the powerful skilled workers and the militant labor leaders allegiant to the Order. And soon the rift surfaced. The members of the traditional trade unions became increasingly unwilling to link their fortunes with the weaker sections e.g. unskilled ones. The need for 'new unionism' evolved. And eventually the K of L ceased to exist. Not only did they initiate Labor Day as a civic event, it had proved itself to be the first labor association strong enough to challenge industry on its own ground. And it was with them the future of American labor in the 1880s appeared to lie.

"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. "All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."

Today Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer and the fall back to school season, rather than a day for political organizing, but it is still a time to pay tribute to the American worker, the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership.

To celebrate this Labor Day, check out our fall gift baskets or patriotic cookies. Both would make fun centerpieces on your party buffet table!