What is Labor Day? A history of the workers’ holiday | New York Times


In the late 1800s, many Americans toiled 12 hours a day, seven days a week, often in physically demanding, low-paying jobs. Children worked too, on farms and in factories and mines. Conditions were often harsh and unsafe.
It was in this context that American workers held the first Labor Day parade, marching from New York’s City Hall to a giant picnic at an uptown park on Sept. 5, 1882.

“Working Men on Parade,” read The New York Times’s headline.

The article, which appeared on the last page, reported that 10,000 people marched “in an orderly and pleasant manner,” far fewer than the organizers had predicted would attend. The workers included cigarmakers, dressmakers, printers, shoemakers, bricklayers, and other tradespeople.

Because it wasn’t yet an official holiday, many of the attendees risked their jobs by participating in the one-day strike. On their signs, they called for “Less Work and More Pay,” an eight-hour workday and a prohibition on the use of convict labor. They were met with cheers.

The American labor movement was among the strongest in the world at the time, and in the years that followed, municipalities and states adopted legislation to recognize Labor Day. New York did so in 1887, and The Times reported that that year’s parade was larger than ever, even amid political tension over the role of socialist groups. Parks, shops, and bars in the city were full . . .

Read on . . .