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Why Do We ­Celebrate Labor Day?

Holiday dates back more than 130 years

The first Monday in September marks Labor Day.
    “Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
    Credit for the day of celebration is divided between Matthew Maguire, a machinist and member of the Central Labor Union in New York, and Peter McGuire, a carpenter and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.
    The first Labor Day celebration was held by the Central Labor Union in New York on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Ten thousand workers took unpaid time off to march from Market Hall to Union Square in the first Labor Day parade.
    Labor Day celebrations spread throughout the country, with municipalities, then states and finally the nation recognizing a holiday for working people. President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day in 1894. His timing was practical, in response to a railroad strike that crippled rail travel. In response, the government deployed troops to Chicago to control the striking workers. Riots broke out and dozens were killed. Labor Day was recognized in hopes of repairing the relationship between government and workers.
    Through the 20th century, the power of labor unions rose. The American labor movement has become synonymous with values that Americans hold dear: a fair wage for a day’s work, safe working conditions for all, a labor force that is valued and protected from exploitation — and the weekend.
    In the 1980s, 30 percent of Americans were union members. Today, only about 11 percent of workers are represented by unions.


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