Why do we celebrate Labor Day instead of May Day? Grover Cleveland.


The way Americans do things is often slightly different from the rest of the world. We measure differently (imperial vs. metric), write dates differently (month-day-year vs. day-month-year), and fill our glasses with plenty of ice (a less cost-effective but undeniable more pleasant way to consume drinks).

We also celebrate workers and the labor movement on a completely different day than most of the rest of the world: Labor Day vs. Labor Day. Labor Day. This is especially strange considering that both days started in the US. So how does one spread to other places and the other becomes a federal holiday here?

According to a widely cited 1982 paper by Theodore Watts, Labor Day came first, but its origins are disputed. Some say it was the brainchild of a respected union leader, Peter McGuire, at the 1882 Central Union Conference in New York. Others praised Matthew Maguire, also a respected union leader and member of the Central New York union but known for his activism. Watts and others argue that after Labor Day became a big deal, union executives credited McGuire, not Maguire, in the origin story to prevent any hint of activism.

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In any case, at a meeting in New York in 1882, it was suggested that a parade and picnic should be held to celebrate workers and unions. Tickets to the parade are sold to male union members for 25 cents each, while women and children march for free. Although the campaign was largely planned by Irish immigrants, the ad was translated into German. Alcohol is banned.

It was originally scheduled for September. 5, Tuesday, which means most of the demonstrators are skipping work. Divisions from Jersey City, Brooklyn, Harlem and more gathered on Canal Street. More than 20,000 people marched down Broadway to Bryant Park, less than three miles away, carrying banners and singing songs about the eight-hour workday and other union demands.

Afterwards, marchers headed to Wendell Elm Park, a private park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, for a picnic. There were more people and more unions at the picnic. There were 15 dailies in the city at the time, and their coverage of the event was mostly luminous. It went so well that the organizers decided they would do it again the following September. Within a few years, it had spread to other states and cities and was moved to the first Monday in September.

Now about May Day. May 1 already had a holiday with ancient origins – think Corolla and Maypole – but national labor organizers didn’t take that into account in 1884, when they made May 1, 1886, a corporate holiday The deadline for granting its workers an eight-hour working day. As the day looms, unions across the country are bracing for a general strike. About 300,000 to 500,000 workers across the country went on strike that day.

In Chicago, the strikers tended to be more radical socialists and anarchists, and their protests continued after others returned home. On May 3, police opened fire on a group of strikers, killing two people. The next day, anger gathered in Haymarket Square, and in the ensuing riots, 12 people were killed, eight of them police.

The following year, the trade unions commemorated the Haymarket event on May 1, and by 1889 the Second International—a world conference of socialists—proclaimed International Workers’ Day, although it was mostly called International Workers’ Day. for May Day.

Both May Day and Labor Day have been revered by various labor groups in the United States over the years, although the former has a reputation for being more political, radical and less happy than the latter. For this reason, Labor Day has always been more popular with legislators, and by 1894, more than 20 states had made it a state holiday.

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Making it a federal holiday didn’t matter to President Grover Cleveland. In 1894, he focused on the recession and revolved around the idea of ​​running for a third term. Then came the head-scratching Pullman strike, a long and furious strike centered in Chicago that threatened the nation’s already battered economy.

As Cleveland prepared to crack down on strikers, he pushed a Labor Day bill through Congress and signed it on June 28. Most historians agree that this was largely an attempt to make concessions to the labor movement while weakening the more radical May Day power crowd.

A few days later, as the strikers turned violent, Cleveland ordered federal troops to Chicago. On July 17, the National Guard opened fire on the crowd, killing as many as 30 people. When the first federally recognized Labor Day came in September, workers and unions were not guaranteed. Only federal workers took the day off.

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