Labor Day: Not Just Another Three-Day Weekend

The Union Movement that started in the last half of the 19th Century was not just about higher wages; it was about building a more civilized, humane society for all.

At the time, 12-hour days and 7-day work weeks were the norm. Working conditions were perilous and protective insurance non-existent. Pay was low. Children as young as 5-years old worked on factory lines alongside adults. A typical management response to workers seeking better conditions and higher wages was violent assault by private armies.

The first Labor Day on September 5, 1882 brought a small number of workers to New York’s lower ear side to celebrate solidarity and hope. It took courage. The surrounding crowd had come as much to witness the inevitable violent suppression as for the parade itself. Organizers nearly cancelled the march because so few people appeared willing to take part. Eventually, workers from New Jersey arrived, and a marching band. They started the first labor day parade with only a few hundred people.

As they walked through lower Manhattan their numbers grew. Emboldened by the parade, thousands of working people who had been intimidated into silence stepped off the sidewalk and into the movement. By the time the parade reached its destination, it was 20,000 people strong.

Union members gave their lives for workplace safety, for the 40-hour/5-day workweek, for child labor laws and a living wage. The country we live in today is the result of their courage and persistence. Labor Day is their holiday. Celebrate appropriately.

The People's House Project