Labor Day (US & CA)
Falling on the first Monday in September every year in the U.S. and Canada, Labor Day is a public holiday that honors the contributions of workers in the labor movement as they worked towards better working conditions and wages throughout the years.
In the United States, Labor Day is often seen as the “unofficial last day of summer,” even though the actual last day of summer does not occur until later in the month.
The History of Labor Day in the United States & Canada
After the strike of Australian stonemasons during the 8-Hour Day Movement, the labor movement in the United States began to take off. It started off slowly as a response to the deplorable conditions in American mines and factories that had existed since before the 18th century.
Although some U.S. states had laws that prevented children from working, there were still places in America where children were working — sometimes children as young as 5 years old.
The labor movement in the United States was a way to address all of the extremely unsafe working conditions that existed at the time. Of course, the labor movement wasn’t just about unsafe working conditions and ending child labor. It was also a way for workers to fight for better wages and shorter work hours.
The Central Labor Union of New York organized one of the first professionally organized Labor Day parades in 1882. The parade was established to celebrate the achievements of American workers and to demand better working conditions.
The parade ended up becoming a big hit, with over 10,000 workers attending, and subsequent parades were held every year after. On June 28, 1894, U.S. President Grover Cleveland signed a law that established Labor Day as a national holiday in the United States.
It was the federal government’s response to the summer of 1894’s Pullman Strike. This strike took place in Pullman, Illinois, and was organized by railroad workers who were combating mass firings and slashed wages.
The Labor Day law was signed into effect to recognize American workers, but it was also designed to appease them. Something that it did end up doing to a certain degree. It was a band-aid on the spirit of the American worker, but it would still take many years of work by labor unions to achieve any real gains.
In Canada, the history of the labor movement is very much tied to the labor movement in the U.S. Inspired by American labor unions and activists, many Canadian workers began to fight for their own better working conditions.
Unfortunately, this was met with hostility from the Canadian government, which ended up passing a law in 1872 that made it illegal for workers to strike or form unions. In response to the Canadian government’s actions, workers in Toronto organized a large protest in March on April 15, 1872.
Although the Toronto protest ended with clashes between protesters and police, it would eventually be recognized as a turning point for the Canadian labor movement. It would become known as the Toronto Typographical Union Strike and it was a pivotal first step for workers to organize and demand better working conditions.
In 1894, the Canadian government ended up passing a law that made Labor Day a national holiday.
Observing Labor Day in the United States & Canada
Both the American and Canadian versions of Labor Day are celebrated in much the same ways. Some workers are given the day off, but that doesn’t mean all workers have the day off. Some people like to use the holiday for having picnics and barbecues with friends and family, and for others, it’s a day to go hiking and enjoy the last bit of time before autumn begins.
Of course, many villages, towns, and cities across North America have their own Labor Day celebrations. These can include parades, festivals, and other organized events. Many people will attend some of the events, or head out to a potluck or to their local department store to take advantage of the Labor Day deals that appear on this day.
Workers can also use this holiday to show their gratitude to their coworkers. This can be done with a simple word of appreciation to them, or by throwing some kind of office party. It’s also a good day to support a work-related cause.
Maybe it’s time to organize with fellow workers to fight for better wages, or maybe push for a shorter workweek. No matter how Americans or Canadians celebrate Labor Day in September, they can help spread the word about this holiday to their fellow citizens using the hashtag #LaborDay on social media.
If we all work together, not only on this holiday but all year long, we can all help to fight for the labor reforms we would like to see. Or, at the very least, we can show our fellow workers that they really matter.