It’s the End of Summer, So Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

Labor unions were the first to celebrate the beginning of the Labor Day tradition in the U.S. A union leader by the name of Peter McGuire originated the idea of setting aside a day for workers to gather in unity. On September 5, 1882, the inaugural Labor Day parade was held in New York City, and a decision was made by the labor unions to designate a date between Independence Day and the Thanksgiving holiday. The first Monday in September was chosen for future celebrations.

As the idea circulated in the United States, some states declared this day a holiday even before the first Monday in September was designated a national holiday.

President Grover Cleveland signed the bill to honor Labor Day. The date was chosen to be that of the first Monday in the month of September. What makes this memorable is that Cleveland was not a support of the unions. In fact, at the time he signed the bill, he was attempting to repair some damage to his political career that he had previously suffered when he sent troops to stop a strike that was sponsored by the Railway Workers Union that caused 34 workers to lose their lives.

In the 1950s, approximately 40% of workers belonged to labor unions in the United States. Currently that figure is approximately 14%. As a result, Labor Day is celebrated more as the unofficial way to end the summer than as a labor union holiday. Just about all schools as well as businesses (including the U.S. Government) close on Labor Day to allow people to have one more barbecue before the weather begins to turn cold.

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