Give an American a reason, and he or she will throw a party, have a parade, or fire up the grill. Americans celebrate different people and events during the year out of a sense of gratitude and honor. One of these holidays is Labor Day, a day fraught with violence but with hope as well. Many people celebrate the day without knowing quite how it began, but they should know that its beginning was built upon the blood and sweat of people who fought for what was right for them, and for you and me.
How Did it Begin?
Picture in your mind a United States at the end of the Civil War up to the early 1900s. Vast tracts of land were still territories, while the cities were packed like sardine cans with immigrants. What work was available lasted 10-14 hours a day, seven days a week. There was no sick leave, no vacation days (paid or otherwise), and no days off. If a worker took time off, he returned often to find his job taken by someone just as desperate as he was for the job.
Now picture in your mind groups of people who were fed up with the state of work and were determined to make a change. These groups negotiated with company owners and others in charge for better working conditions and wage increases. The groups didn’t necessarily foster violence, but didn’t move a muscle when their charges fought the good fight, as they called it.
On Tuesday, September 5, 1882, Union leaders wanted to celebrate the working man and what achievements he could claim his own. A monster parade was scheduled in New York City for just that reason, but for a few hours, they feared no one would show up. Not long after it began, however, nearly 10,000 people did show up to celebrate the working man. The festivity didn’t become a national holiday for almost 10 years, when President Grover Cleveland designated the first Monday in September as the official celebration of Labor Day.
The first two New York City parades were held on September 5, but the third was scheduled for Monday that year, and it stuck. However, four years later in Chicago on May 1st (what we call May Day today), workers assembled to demand an eight hour working day. It was a peaceful protest until someone tossed a bomb into the knot of police gathered to make sure the event was nonviolent. The police retaliated, and to this day no one knows how many were killed. The bomber was never found, although four other people, innocent or not, were hanged for collusion in the crime. This was dubbed the Haymarket Affair, and was remembered a decade later when the subject of Labor Day arose. In order to keep the two separate and to ensure no more violence, the date for Labor Day was sanctioned as the first Monday in September.
We Gonna Celebrate and Have a Good Time
Written by Kool and the Gang in the early 1980s, the words still echo today as we hit the pool, stuff ourselves with excellent food from the grill, and watch the fireworks at night on Labor Day. But that’s not all! If you feel like skipping the grill, get some of the finest ribs in the country and listen to great music all weekend at Heinz Field at the Kickoff and Rib Festival. Food, music, games, and rides for kids will help you celebrate the holiday. Jump into the Gatorade/Steelers 5K Race, Fitness Walk, and Kids Run or watch the Labor Day Parade from anywhere downtown.
In the mood for more festival fun? The 59th Annual Pittsburgh Folk Festival offers families music, food, and a dizzying array of international crafts, arts, cultural exhibits, as well as a café with authentic traditional home cuisine.
Want to get out of town for the day to see how others celebrate the day? Head for the beautiful Bucks County on September 3 for a Sesame Street Barbecue complete with Sesame Street characters, fireworks, and surf and turf dinner at Washington House Restaurant. Be sure to make time to swim, fish, or hike in the stunning surrounding countryside.
Now that you know how Labor Day began, it’s time to celebrate and have a good time!