Labor Day = Civil Rights Day for American Working People

by on September 6, 2010 · 2 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, History, Labor, War and Peace


Labor Day parade in New York City, 1882.

Labor Day in America is really the civil rights day for working people in America.  With unemployment reaching new highs, and with union membership reaching new lows, it’s time for working people to take a moment, and contemplate what this day really means.

Enacted as a federal holiday in 1894 by Congress, it was meant to be a substitute for the traditional workers’ day, May 1st.  Congress and the establishment did not want the U.S. to be seen as modeling the “international communist” day for the proletariat, even though May Day as a workers’ day began in America, so they had to come up with something different, but at the same time, giving the appearance of appealing to the country’s working class.

Here is wikipedia’s version (without all the links – go to the original for those links):

The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882 in New York City, by the Central Labor Union of New York, the nation’s first integrated major trade union.[1] It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.[2] The September date originally chosen by the CLU of NY and observed by many of the nation’s trade unions for the past several years was selected rather than the more widespread International Workers’ Day because Cleveland was concerned that observance of the latter would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair, for which it had been observed to commemorate.[3] All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday.

The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civil significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Traditionally, Labor Day is celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer. The holiday is often regarded as a day of rest and parties. Speeches or political demonstrations are more low-key than May 1 Labor Day celebrations in most countries, although events held by labor organizations often feature political themes and appearances by candidates for office, especially in election years. Forms of celebration include picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, water sports, and public art events. Families with school-age children take it as the last chance to travel before the end of summer recess. Similarly, some teenagers and young adults view it as the last weekend for parties before returning to school, although school starting times now vary.

In U.S. sports, Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. NCAA teams usually play their first games the week before Labor Day, with the NFL traditionally playing their first game the Thursday following Labor Day. The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race was held that day from 1950 to 1983 in Darlington, South Carolina. At Indianapolis, the National Hot Rod Association hold their finals to the U.S. Nationals drag race.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dickie September 6, 2010 at 11:14 am

all good history to remember. Thanks, Frank.
I just happened to stumble upon a Labor Day op-ed that puts this into more contemporary perspective . . . check it out if you have a moment or two:


Danny Morales September 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Thanks to Frank&Dickie for keeping the flame alive. I wish we could pass it on to a new generation of working class hero/heroine (which “is something to be”…Lennon). If my most memorable Labor Day weekend is an example then we have a long haul ahead for all us friends of organized labor (F.O.O.L.).

1996 and the strike at NASSCO had all but fizzled-out! It’s the friday before the Labor Day weekend and I’m handing out flyers to the workers getting off their shift. Then it hits me-BAM!- These mopes will be celebrating Labor Day because of the sacrifices of others and I’m out here like a sap still maintaining what’s left of a picket line. FUCK THAT!

If a community or class of people hopes to achieve their goals in an other than organized and disciplined manner let me know how that works for ya! In the meantime I’ve got a life to share with those who are.

Don’t call me, I’ll call you.


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