What is Labor Day & How Is It A National Holiday?

Happy Labor Day! Today, we usually would be attending cookouts and various parades. Unfortunately, the celebration looks quite different this year because of the Coronavirus. The pandemic has seemed to ruin all the special holidays this summer – however, why is this holiday special anyway? I am not one to complain about a day off work, but I am curious to know why we celebrate Labor Day and where the holiday originated.  It is not hard to assume the holiday comes from the time when labor policies were in constant debate. I mean – it's called Labor Day. More specifically, in the 19th-century policies regarding work hours, safety regulations, and fair pay were nearly nonexistent. Labor unions began to form throughout the nation, advocating for workers' rights. 

Girl Farming Jocelyn Hsu / Spoon

The credit for a holiday dedicated to celebrating workers is also debated heavily. There are two men who were both well-known activists during this time. They also have similar last names – McGuire and Maguire – making the originator even harder to decipher. 

Peter McGuire, the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, actively protested for workers' rights religiously. He is even credited for May Day. May Day was a protest held on May 1, 1886, that involved industrial workers all over the nation going on strike. It is said that the strike was held for days in Chicago. The historical event is key to the standard workday being only 8-hours versus ten to sixteen hours. 

Matthew Maguire was known for his radical beliefs. He often was seen as an activist who was "too aggressive." As the secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, he led endless strikes as well. However, his colleagues became so concerned with his radical actions that they may have decided to discredit Maguire from being the Labor Day father. 

Allegedly, McGuire stated Labor Day should "be celebrated by a street parade which would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations." This is now an urban legend thanks to new evidence. 

Street Dancing In The Park B&W 1 Anna Thetard / Her Campus "The First Labor Day Parade" by Ted Watts revealed that Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor did not want Maguire tied to Labor Day because of his radical beliefs. McGuire was then assigned as the father of Labor Day in an interview held in 1897.  So, what does this mean for the workers of today? 

Essentially, Labor Day is seen as a day to celebrate the foundation of the U.S. – its working citizen. It is estimated that nearly 160 million people are a part of the labor force. The holiday also serves a tribute to those like McGuire, Maguire, and Gompers, who fought for workers' rights during the 19th Century.  With that being said, enjoy your 10-people-or-less gatherings today. So, start up your grill and relax with family. Forget about how much you hate your boss or ignore every email that might work its way onto your home screen. Remember, by law, this is your day of relaxation.