Labor Day: A Jersey guy may be to thank for our 3-day weekend
Did you know you probably have a Jersey Guy to thank for the long holiday weekend?
Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It also recognizes the deplorable working conditions many endured.
It seems difficult today to comprehend the working conditions of 1800s. The History Channel chronicles some of what workers endured: “The average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.”
Labor Day is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September, although the first Labor Day parade was held on a Tuesday in New York City. That was September 5, 1882.
The invites for the parade were sent out by Matthew Maguire of Paterson.
Maguire was an officer with the Paterson Machinists and Blacksmiths Union, and a passionate activist for improving working conditions. He eventually helped organize the Central Labor Union of New York.
If you have never heard of him, or his affiliation with the creation of Labor Day, you are not alone. Historical texts paint Maguire as something of a radical and a socialist. His passions extended beyond the labor movement and into the realm of social reforms. He ran for vice president in 1896 on the ticket for the National Socialist Labor Party. Some historians believe Maguire’s radical politics were too much for the American Labor movement, and efforts were made to deliberately downplay his contributions to make the movement seem more moderate and apolitical.
However, there are several writings from the era that DO credit his involvement, including an editorial from the Paterson Morning Call newspaper in 1894 that referred to Maguire as the “Father of the Labor Day holiday.”
In any event, The New Jersey Historical Society notes New Jersey was on the forefront of the Labor Movement. We were one of the first states in 1887 to make Labor Day a state holiday.
In 1894 Congress passed a bill designating the first Monday in September as the national holiday we now enjoy.