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Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. This year, it is Sept. 7. I am celebrating a holiday that is 227 years in existence and don’t even know why! This has got to change right now. I started researching the story of the holiday, and this is what I found:

 

Eleven-year-old Peter McGuire sold papers on the street in New York City. He shined shoes and cleaned stores and, later, ran errands. It was 1863 and his father, a poor Irish immigrant, had just enlisted to fight in the Civil War. Peter had to help support his mother and six brothers and sisters. Many immigrants settled in New York City in the 19th century. They found that living conditions were not as wonderful as they had dreamed. Often, there were six families crowded into a house made for one family. Thousands of children had to go to work.

 

Working conditions were even worse. Immigrant men, women and children worked in factories for 10 to 12 hours a day, stopping only for a short time to eat. They came to work even if they were tired or sick, because if they didn’t, they might be fired. Thousands of people were waiting to take their places.

 

When Peter was 17, he began an apprenticeship in a piano shop. The job was better than his others, for he was learning a trade, but he still worked long hours with low pay. At night, he went to meetings and classes in economics and social issues of the day. One of the main issues of concern pertained to labor conditions. Workers were tired of long hours, low pay and uncertain jobs. They spoke of organizing themselves into a union of laborers to improve their working conditions.

 

In the spring of 1872, McGuire and 100,000 workers went on strike and marched through the streets, demanding a decrease in the long working day. The event convinced him that an organized labor movement was important for the future of workers’ rights. He spent the next year speaking to crowds of workers and unemployed people, lobbying the city government for jobs and relief money. It was not an easy road for McGuire. He became known as a “disturber of the public peace.” The city government ignored his demands.

 

Peter himself could not find a job in his trade. He began to travel up and down the east coast to speak to laborers about unionizing. In 1881, he moved to St. Louis and began to organize carpenters. He organized a convention of carpenters in Chicago, and it was there that a national union of carpenters was founded. He became General Secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

 

The idea of organizing workers according to their trades spread around the country. Factory workers, dock workers and toolmakers all began to demand and get their rights to an eight-hour workday, a secure job, and a future in their trades. McGuire and laborers in other cities planned a holiday for workers on the first Monday in September, halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day. On Sept. 5, 1882, the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City. Twenty thousand workers marched in a parade up Broadway. They carried banners that read “Labor creates all wealth,” and “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for recreation!”

 

After the parade, there were picnics all around the city. Workers and families ate Irish stew, homemade bread, and apple pie. At night, fireworks were set off. Within the next few years, the idea spread from coast to coast, and all states celebrated Labor Day. In 1894, Congress voted it a federal holiday.

 

Today, we celebrate Labor Day with a little less fanfare on the first Monday of September. Some cities have parades and com-munity picnics. Most Americans consider Labor Day the end of the summer. We celebrate with picnics, barbecues, or the last chance to travel before the end of summer recess. Labor Day also marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. Take time to spend this day with your families. Let them know they are an important part of your life.

 

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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