Whether you treat Labor Day as a time to honor workers or your last chance to wear white for the year, the day is worth celebrating. The holiday is a day off for many Americans, but not everyone knows why it lands on a Monday each year. If you're enjoying a three-day weekend this September, you have activists and politicians to thank.
According to Bustle, Labor Day's origins can be traced back to Tuesday, September 5, 1882. On that date, workers' rights activists organized the first Labor Day parade in New York, demanding more pay for fewer hours. Labor Day was celebrated on September 5 again the following year, and in 1884, the Central Labor Union decided to move the holiday to the first Monday in September.
It would be another decade before the U.S. government recognized Labor Day as an official holiday. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law establishing an annual day commemorating workers. Labor organizers were rapidly gaining influence in U.S. politics, and Cleveland knew he needed to do something to acknowledge the growing movement. To some, International Workers’ Day on May 1 may have seemed like the more obvious holiday to recognize. It had been established by the Second International Socialist Conference five years earlier, and it celebrated the same movement. But International Workers’ Day—or May Day—was chosen to honor the Haymarket affair, in which seven police officers and at least one civilian were killed during a labor protest in Chicago in 1886. Hoping to appease workers without supporting the more radical and controversial side of the labor movement, politicians chose to recognize Labor Day instead. Cleveland and Congress kept in line with the Central Labor Union by making it the first Monday in September.
After decades of it falling on a Monday, Lyndon B. Johnson reinforced Labor Day's spot on the calendar. The president signed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act into law in 1968, moving several federal holidays from specific dates to Mondays. Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Washington's Birthday (which would become Presidents' Day), and Columbus Day were all covered by the legislation. Labor Day was also included, though the act merely confirmed its date at the beginning of September rather than changing it.
Celebrating Labor Day at the tail-end of a three-day weekend makes sense; it gives many workers a day off on what would normally be the start of the workweek. But not everyone was content with celebrating on a Monday. In 1909, the American Federation of Labor tried to make Labor Sunday a thing. The push was unsuccessful. Here are more facts about the holiday you should know.
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