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Labor Day - America's Holiday

Sep 1, 2007
September 5, 1882, the streets of New York fill with 20,000 workers participating in what was to be the first Labor Day Parade. It was an all day affair kicked off by the parade followed by family picnics all around the city and later in the evening, a fireworks display.

Founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Peter McGuire is said to have been the first to propose the idea of a day set aside in celebration of the American worker. Working conditions during that time were poor and many times dangerous. Many factories had no windows for fresh air or venting dangerous fumes, there was no such thing as safety guards on an machine. If someone got hurt on the job, there wasn't any insurance to cover them, in fact they could be fired. Some had poor heating systems or no heat at all, leaving workers to stay warm on their own in winter. But workers were reluctant to take a stand against this abuse, jobs were scarce and they considered themselves lucky to have jobs.

Working long hours in a piano shop during the day and going to meetings in the evenings, Peter learned of the American workers plight. They were tired of these conditions and working long hours for low pay and no job security.

After a march Peter attended in which 100,000 workers marched the streets of New York to protest the appauling working conditions and 10 to 12 hours days, he knew an organized labor movement was needed. He began speaking to groups, both employed and unemployed, about the importance of organizing. He unsuccessfully lobbied the city for jobs and financial relief. This of course did not set well with city government and he gained a reputation as a troublemaker and was once arrested while seeking a permit to parade.

America may have been built on great ideas and money of the wealthy but it was on the backs of the American worker that the dreams of the affluent were realized. Without the sweat and toil of the workforce, those dreams would have remained just that... dreams. The labor of these extraordinary Americans provided the muscle and momentum that literally built this country from the ground up and transformed it into the economic powerhouse it is today.

Not able to find employment in his own trade, Peter began to travel along the eastern seaboard speaking to workers about organizing unions. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1881 and soon began talking to the carpenters and organizing conventions there. It was there in St. Louis that a national union of carpenters was founded and where he became the General Secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

Needless to say the idea of organizing the workforce to improve conditions and pay spread across the nation quickly. Once they realized it could be done, workers from around the nation banded together becoming a force to be reckoned with and eventually management was obliged to concede to their demands.

In celebration of the victory, Peter and laborers across America planned a holiday for workers. It was to be on the first Monday in September and on September 5th, 1882 America's first Labor Day parade was held in New York City. Ironically, the event was actually held on a Tuesday. The following year it was also celebrated on September 5th, presumably a Wednesday. It wasn't until 1884 that the holiday was actually celebrated on a Monday.

So during your cookouts and family gatherings this year, remember that the day of celebration was made possible by Peter McGuire's leadership in the fight for us as American workers. His hard work and determination helped lead a nation to remind our government that our country was built on the backs of people like you and me.
About the Author
Ron Berry is a freelance journalist who writes for Essay Street - http://essaystreet.com - Home of the No~Label RSS Feed.
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