The history of Labor Day

Labor Day is often known as a celebration of the end of summer and is seen as a time to gather with family and friends for parades, fireworks and barbecues. However, Labor Day stems from a darker time in US History. It is the modern-day culmination of the efforts of American workers to create better working conditions for future generations.

Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

On September 5, 1882, ten thousand American workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. This was the first Labor Day parade – one of many acts of protest from American workers, initiated by the pay cuts and 12-hour days which had become commonplace during the Industrial Revolution.

As well as working long, gruelling hours, American workers and children as young as 5 often faced dangerous and unsanitary conditions. As a consequence, labor unions began to organise, arranging mass protest and strikes to force employers into improving conditions.

As well as the first Labor Day parade, these protests included the Haymarket Riot of 1886, and the Pullman Strike of 1894, in which more than a dozen workers were killed when Federal Government dispatched troops to end the strike.

When was the first Labor Day?

There is some confusion over who first came up with the idea of a “working man’s holiday.” However, the idea was first suggested to pay tribute to the efforts of American workers. The first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1892. Yet, it wasn’t passed into law as a legal holiday until June 28, 1894, as Congress attempted to repair the fractured relationship with American workers. The modern 8-hour workday wasn’t established until September 3, 1916.

We now celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of every September. However, it is commonly confused with May Day, which celebrates workers internationally.

What is the result of better working conditions?

Positive working conditions have been seen to increase productivity, boost profits and reduce turnover for organisations who treat their employees well. As a result, more businesses are now introducing competitive working environments and policies. For example, allowing employees to work flexibly to improve their work-life balance as well as providing many other benefits. 

However, it is worth noting that Labor Day weekend now causes some of the longest hours for retail workers, having been conflated with bank holiday sales. So, while work has been done to establish better conditions for workers, there is still room for progress as we move forward to improve conditions for everyone.

Meanwhile, from all of us at Talent Works International, we hope you enjoy your Labor Day celebrations. Make the most of some time away from the office and, remember, happy employees are proven to be more productive.