As you plan your Labor Day celebration and send out your Labor Day party invitations, consider what you really know about labor day history. Most Americans have forgotten that the roots of the holiday are in unionism. What now is celebrated with picnics and sleeping in Monday morning started out as a celebration of all the hard working laborers and gave way to the fight for fair wages and all the basic employee rights we enjoy today. Here’s a little labor day trivia to throw out at your party this year.
Labor Day History and Trivia
- Peter McGuire is considered the Father of the Labor Day holiday. An Irish-American cabinet maker and pioneer unionist proposed a day dedicated to all who labor at a meeting of the Central Labor Union on May 18,1882 where he stated, “Let us have, a festive day during which a parade through the streets of the city would permit public tribute to American Industry.” He is described as a red-headed, fiery, eloquent leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.
- In September 1883, New York workers staged a parade up Broadway to Union Square. Few, if any, workers got the day off. Most were warned against marching in the parade with the threat of getting fired. Despite the warning, more than 10,000 workers showed up for the march. Led by mounted police, bricklayers in white aprons paraded with a band playing “Killarney.” The marchers passed a reviewing stand crowded with Knights of Labor: a holiday was born. McGuire’s holiday moved across the country as slowly as did recognition of the rights of the working man.
- Twelve years later, on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland, long a foe of organized labor, but under voter pressure, signed a Labor Day holiday bill designating the first Monday in September for the holiday.
- Detroit (Motor City) was at the heart of the labor movement. Thousands of men and women struck the plants and shops and marched the streets demanding a fair shake. Upon the completion of the Erie Canal in 1837, Detroit’s population had grown to 10,000. Housing boomed and overworked carpenters became some of the first Detroiters to organize into unions. On April 3, 1837, the city’s first strike broke out among the carpenters and journeymen seeking 10-hour work days and $2 pay.
- In 1839, organized printers joined the movement and created the state’s first union paper, The Rat Gazette. The term “Rat” was coined to describe the nonunion workers who spied for the bosses on organizing efforts. Union organizing centered on the skilled-trades workers of Detroit. Early organizing efforts drew sharp reaction from the employers, who formed their own organization to counter unionizing activity, the Detroit Employers Association. They immediately fired and blacklisted workers identified as union organizers, calling them “unwanted undesirables.” (dt.news.com)
- By 1937, sitdown strikes really changed the tide of the labor movement. Employers had been able to defeat the conventional walkout strike with replacement workers. The sitdown tactic allowed strikers to shut down production and remain protected from the weather. The arrangement also allowed the workers to develop a solidarity difficult to foster with a conventional walkout.
- The sitdown wave really gained momentum after the historic victory of General Motors workers in Flint. Their 44-day occupation of the Fisher Body plant forced General Motors to sign a contract with the union on Feb. 11, 1937.
- In 1937, there were 177 sitdown strikes nationwide that lasted one day or longer, involving more than 130,000 workers.
- Most federal laws protecting workers were passed during the 1930s.
- The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which strengthened unions’ rights to organize and negotiate with employers, was key legislation. Unions gained power during the 1940s as America fought World War II.
- Influential American labor leader, Walter Reuther’s legacy strengthened the rights of the working man. When wages were frozen during the war, Reuther began negotiating for benefits such as paid vacation and sick leave.
- As the Labor Day history reveals the rallies in Detroit became the launching pad for Democratic presidential candidates to announce their campaigns. Candidates Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson came to Detroit to jumpstart their races and woo union support.
- By the mid to later 1960’s, as big labor’s leaders lost much of their clout with the rank and file, many workers spent the three-day holiday enjoying backyard barbecues, boats and summer cottages: the fruits of their victories. This explains why modern day labor day celebrations usually are about one last summer fling- be it barbecues or last minute getaways- the holiday is no longer marked by parades and marches for unionism.
Modern American labor Day Trivia & History:
- The average time it takes to commute to work is 24.3 minutes.
- Of the 233 counties with populations of 250,000 or more, Queens (41.7 minutes), Richmond (41.3 minutes), Bronx (40.8 minutes) and Kings (39.7 minutes) – four of the five counties that comprise New York City – experienced the longest average commute-to-work times.
- The amount of time the average American spends commuting to work each year is more than 100 hours. This exceeds the typical two weeks of vacation time taken by many U.S. workers over the course of a year!
- 7.3 million workers who hold down more than one job. “Moonlighters” comprise 5 percent of the working population. Of these, 3.8 million work full time at their primary job and part time at their other job, and about 293,000 work full time at both jobs.
- 10.3 million workers are self-employed.
- 4.5 million people work at home.
- 20.3 million females work in educational, health and social services industries. More women work in this industry group than in any other.
- Manufacturing was the most popular, industry among men, with 11.3 million workers.
- There are an estimated 15.8 million labor union members nationwide. About 13 percent of wage and salary workers belong to unions, with New York having among the highest rates of any state – 25 percent. North Carolina has one of the lowest rates, 3 percent.
As you celebrate the labor day holiday party, remember to give a nod to all the hardworking men and women who marched in solidarity in the days where industrial labor ruled America. Union leaders worked to create the benefits of overtime and sick pay that we enjoy today. So enjoy your 3 day weekend and thanks for all your hard work! We hope you’ve enjoyed this labor day trivia.