Celebrating Labor Day? Thank Grover Cleveland

Dan Evon - Author

Jun. 16 2013, Updated 12:15 a.m. ET

Labor Day is more than just a day off. It’s more than barbecues, fireworks, and picnics. Labor day is a day to celebrate the working class.

The U.S. Labor Department says:

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“It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”

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People today may dread an 8-hour day and a 40-hour work week, but compared to the 1880s, we’ve got it pretty easy.

In 1882, the Central Labor Union in New York decided that it was time for labor laws to change. The union organized 20,000 workers to march down Broadway and demand an 8-hour work day.

According to the LA Times, The protesters carried signs that read “Labor Creates All Wealth” and “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation.”

This labor reform march is considered to be the first Labor Day.

The following year, more labor unions from around the country also decided that labor laws needed to be changed. And by 1884, Labor Day was being celebrated, unofficially, in 23 states.

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The movement was growing quickly but it truly grabbed national attention during the deadly Pullman strike, when government forces shot and killed several railroad workers who were on strike in Illinois.

That’s when President Grover Cleveland stepped in. Cleveland was trying to win re-election so he signed legislation to officially make Labor Day a national holiday.

According to the AFL-CIO:

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“In what most historians call an election year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday.”

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With many people out of work and labor unions being challenged in Wisconsin, it’s important to remember why we celebrate Labor Day. So is today just a day for beer and barbecue? Or did you celebrate the fact that you only have to work 8-hours a day.


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