The Labor Day Story Gets Lost In the Celebration
North America celebrated Labour Day amidst concern about jobs cuts and reducing employment figures. Although the Democratic Presidential candidate has categorically said that he will stop the outsourcing and increase job prospects. Labourers all over the world including USA & Canada are suffering from the permament job in all the important sector of the job. Gone are the days when workers were hired full time with all the benefits. With current employment arrangements workers are not entitled to employment benefits.
For many Americans, Labor Day is just a three-day weekend, the unofficial end of summer and, in many parts of the country, the last day off before the start of a new school year. After Labor Day, afternoon shadows become noticeably longer, early risers are greeted by the dark before the dawn and leaf peepers unroll their maps to await the southward march of autumn colors.
Somewhere in all of that, the origins of Labor Day tend to become lost.
The first Labor Day was not an official holiday. It was an ad hoc celebration organized by union leaders in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882 to celebrate the work of laborers. Following a parade, there was a rally at Union Square and then a family picnic. (Union Square, by the way, received its name in 1807 because it is at the junction, or union, of two important city streets. Its association with the labor-union movement was still 75 years in the future.)
Although the general outline of that first Labor Day celebration is amply documented, one key fact has been lost. Historians are not sure who came up with the idea. Two similarly sounding but differently spelled names compete for the credit. One was Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter who helped found the organization which became the American Federation of Labor. The other was Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York at the time.
The holiday quickly spread across the country. In 1887, Oregon became the first state to officially recognize Labor Day. By 1893, Labor Day was being celebrated in at least half of the states. In 1894, Congress made Labor Day a national holiday.
The founder of Labor Day -- Mr. Maguire or Mr. McGuire -- proposed a September date to break up the long period between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. At the time, most people had to work six days a week. The 5-day, 40-hour workweek did not become standard until 1936.
For the first two years, Labor Day was celebrated on a Tuesday. However, in 1884, the observance was moved to the first Monday in September. That set a precedent for using holidays to give workers three-day weekends.
It took much longer to make the change for Memorial Day, which was first celebrated in 1868 and did not become a fixed Monday holiday until 1971. That same year, George Washington's Birthday and Veteran's Day were moved to Monday dates, and Columbus Day was established as a national Monday holiday. In 1978, Veteran's Day was returned to its original date on Nov. 11. The Washington's Birthday Monday holiday is widely observed as President's Day, honoring Abraham Lincoln as well.
Although Labor Day began as a celebration of organized labor, unions no longer play the same role in America's non-governmental workforce.
While the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) did report an uptick in union membership in 2007, the last year for which the data is available, the trend during the past quarter-century has been downward. Between 2006 and 2007, union membershop increased by 311,000 workers. However, since the bureau began keeping track in 1983, union membership has declined from 20.1 percent of the workforce to 15.7 percent.
Labor Day 2008 also plays out against backdrop of rising unemployment. The BLS pegged the latest jobles rate, for July, at 5.7 percent, the highest rate since March 2004. An estimated 8.8 million people were without jobs during July. Overall, the unemployment rolls have increased by 1.6 million people, and the unemployment rate has gone up by 1 percentage point.
Overall, there are some 154.5 million people in the workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, including 82.6 million men and 71.9 million women.