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Labor Day is More Than a Day Off from Work

Posted By News Staff On Monday, September 5, 2011 @ 6:00 am In News | No Comments

Washington, D.C. – Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

This Labor Day, take a minute to honor America’s hardworking men and women by showing who’s special in your life. Is it the nurse or teacher who made a difference? Or maybe a relative who labored as a steelworker or ironworker? Or, as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, is it one of the many first responders who rushed into burning buildings to save lives?

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Presidential Proclamation – Labor Day

President Barrack Obama

Every day, hard-working men and women across America prove that, even in difficult times, our country is still home to the most creative, dynamic, and talented workers in the world. Generations of working people have built this country — from our highways and skylines, to the goods and services driving us in the 21st century. On Labor Day and throughout the year, we celebrate our Nation’s workers, and we commit to supporting their efforts in moving our economy forward.

The right to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental American value. Since its beginnings in our country, organized labor has raised our living standards and built our middle class. It is the reason we have a minimum wage, weekends away from work to rest and spend time with family, and basic protections in our workplaces. Many Americans today are given opportunities because their parents and grandparents fought for these basic rights and values. The principles upheld by the honorable laborers of generations past and their unions continue to fuel the growth of our economy and a strong middle class.

This year has seen a vigorous fight to protect these rights and values, and on this Labor Day, we reaffirm that collective bargaining is a cornerstone of the American dream. From public employees — including teachers, firefighters, police, and others who perform public services — to workers in private industries, these men and women hold the power of our Nation in their hands.

In the last several years, we have pulled our country back from the brink, through a series of tough economic decisions. While we have come far, great challenges still face us. Many Americans are still struggling, and many are unemployed. My Administration is working tirelessly each day to promote policies that get Americans back to work. We will always strive to keep our fundamental promise that, in America, anyone who works hard and acts responsibly can provide a better future for their children. When we come together, there is no limit to what the American workforce can do.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 5th, 2011, as Labor Day. I call upon all public officials and people of the United States to observe
this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that acknowledge the tremendous contributions of working Americans and their families.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

BARACK OBAMA

History of Labor Day

Miners with Their Children, at the Labor Day Celebration, Silverton, Colorado, Russell Lee, photographer, September 1940.

Miners with Their Children, at the Labor Day Celebration, Silverton, Colorado, Russell Lee, photographer, September 1940.

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, NJ, proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

Labor Day parade, Main Street, Buffalo, NY, ca. 1900. (Library of Congress)

Labor Day parade, Main Street, Buffalo, NY, ca. 1900. (Library of Congress)

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5th, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5th, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Daze – Pride, Chaos and Kegs on Labor’s First ‘Day’

Labor Day in New York in 1882 [2]

Labor Day in New York in 1882

On the morning of September 5th, 1882, a crowd of spectators filled the sidewalks of lower Manhattan near city hall and along Broadway. They had come early, well before the Labor Day Parade marchers, to claim the best vantage points from which to view the first Labor Day Parade. A newspaper account of the day described “…men on horseback, men wearing regalia, men with society aprons, and men with flags, musical instruments, badges, and all the other paraphernalia of a procession.”

The police, wary that a riot would break out, were out in force that morning as well. By 9:00am, columns of police and club-wielding officers on horseback surrounded city hall.

By 10:00am, the Grand Marshall of the parade, William McCabe, his aides and their police escort were all in place for the start of the parade. There was only one problem: none of the men had moved. The few marchers that had shown up had no music.

According to McCabe, the spectators began to suggest that he give up the idea of parading, but he was determined to start on time with the few marchers that had shown up. Suddenly, Mathew Maguire of the Central Labor Union of New York (and probably the father of Labor Day) ran across the lawn and told McCabe that two hundred marchers from the Jewelers Union of Newark Two had just crossed the ferry — and they had a band!

Just after 10:00am, the marching jewelers turned onto lower Broadway — they were playing “When I First Put This Uniform On,” from Patience, an opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. The police escort then took its place in the street. When the jewelers marched past McCabe and his aides, they followed in behind. Then, spectators began to join the march. Eventually there were 700 men in line in the first of three divisions of Labor Day marchers. Final reports of the total number of marchers ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 men and women.

With all of the pieces in place, the parade marched through lower Manhattan. The New York Tribune reported that, “The windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames were occupied by persons anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization.”

At noon, the marchers arrived at Reservoir Park, the termination point of the parade. While some returned to work, most continued on to the post-parade party at Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and Ninth Avenue; even some unions that had not participated in the parade showed up to join in the post-parade festivities that included speeches, a picnic, an abundance of cigars and, “Lager beer kegs… mounted in every conceivable place.”

From 1:00pm until 9:00pm that night, nearly 25,000 union members and their families filled the park and celebrated the very first, and almost entirely disastrous, Labor Day.

Rosie: By Any Other Name – The Riveting True Story of the Labor Icon

Iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, but with the words 'Don't Call me Rosie. Or Else!' above her head.

Iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, but with the words 'Don't Call me Rosie. Or Else!' above her head.

Certainly, one of the more readily recognizable icons of labor is “Rosie the Riveter,” the indefatigable World War II-era woman who rolled up her sleeves, flexed her arm muscles and said, “We Can Do It!” But, this isn’t the original Rosie.

In 1942, as World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific and the song “Rosie the Riveter” filled radio waves across the home front, manufacturing giant Westinghouse commissioned artist J. Howard Miller to make a series of posters to promote the war effort. One such poster featured the image of a woman with her hair wrapped up in a red polka-dot scarf, rolling up her sleeve and flexing her bicep. At the top of the poster, the words ‘We Can Do It!’ are printed in a blue caption bubble. To many people, this image is “the” Rosie the Riveter. But it was never the intention to make this image “Rosie,” nor did many Americans think of her as “Rosie.” The connection of Miller’s image and “Rosie” is a recent phenomenon.

The “Rosie” image popular during the war was created by illustrator Norman Rockwell (who had most certainly heard the “Rosie the Riveter” song) for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29th, 1943 — the Memorial Day issue. The image depicts a muscular woman wearing overalls, goggles and pins of honor on her lapel. She sports a leather wrist band and rolled-up sleeves. She sits with a riveting tool in her lap, eating a sandwich, and “Rosie” is inscribed on her lunch pail. And, she’s stepping on a copy of Adolph Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf.”

The magazine cover exemplified the American can-do spirit and illustrated the notion of women working in previously male-dominated manufacturing jobs, an ever-growing reality, to help the United States fight the war while the men fought over seas.

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter (Saturday Evening Post / Photography by Dwight Primiano)

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter (Saturday Evening Post / Photography by Dwight Primiano)

The cover was an enormous success and soon stories about real life “Rosies” began appearing in newspapers across the country. The government took advantage of the popularity of Rosie the Riveter and embarked on a recruiting campaign of the same name. The campaign brought millions of women out of the home and into the workforce. To this day, Rosie the Riveter is still considered the most successful government advertising campaign in history.

After the war, numerous requests were made for the Saturday Evening Post image of Rosie the Riveter, but Curtis Publishing, the owner of the Post, refused all requests. The publishing company was possibly concerned that the composers of the song “Rosie the Riveter” would hold them liable for copyright infringement.

Since then, the J. Howard Miller “We Can Do It!” image has replaced Norman Rockwell’s illustration as “Rosie the Riveter” in the minds of many people. Miller’s Rosie has been imprinted on coffee mugs, mouse pads, and countless other items, making her and not the original “Rosie” the most famous of all labor icons.

The Path to a National Holiday Celebrating Working Folks

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21st, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28th of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

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The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

The men and women who made it possible

The workplace rights and protections we enjoy today were won for us by generations of America’s working heroes. Get inspired by these brief biographies to continue the fight.

Biographies are based on background information supplied by Dorothy Sue Cobble, professor of History and Labor Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and Michael Merrill, director of the George Meany Memorial Archives and editor of Labor’s Heritage.

  • César Estrada Chávez [4] – Folk hero and symbol of hope who organized a union of farmworkers.
  • Nelson Hale Cruikshank [5] – Helped create Social Security and Medicare.
  • Eugene Victor Debs [6] – Apostle of industrial unionism.
  • Thomas Reilly Donahue [7] – Champion of labor renewal and former AFL-CIO president.
  • Arthur Joseph Goldberg [8]Legal strategist for the union movement and former Secretary of Labor.
  • Samuel Gompers [9] – First and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
  • William Green [10]Former AFL president, moved the federation toward “social reform unionism.”
  • Joe Hill [11] – Songwriter, itinerant laborer, union organizer—and martyr.
  • Sidney Hillman [12] – Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America founder invented trade unionism as we know it today.
  • Mother Jones [13]“The most dangerous woman in America.”
  • Rev. Martin Luther King Jr [14]. – Living his dream.
  • Lane Kirkland [15]Former AFL-CIO president had a profound effect on world affairs.
  • John L. Lewis [16] – President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and founding president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
  • Lucy Randolph Mason [17] – Social reformer dedicated to workers’ rights and racial justice.
  • Peter J. McGuire [18]The “father” of Labor Day and of May Day championed the need for a national labor federation.
  • George Meany [19] – The builder of the modern AFL-CIO.
  • Philip Murray [20]CIO president who helped transform industrial union movement into a stable and powerful organization.
  • Frances Perkins [21] – Committed labor secretary and first woman in a presidential cabinet position.
  • Esther Eggersten Peterson [22] – Eloquent and effective advocate for the rights of workers, women and consumers.
  • A. Philip Randolph [23]Organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and fought discrimination in national defense.
  • Walter Reuther [24] – Long-time president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) considered the model of a reform-minded, liberal trade unionist.
  • Bayard Rustin [25] – Brilliant theorist, tactician and organizer and first head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Article printed from Clarksville, TN Online: http://www.clarksvilleonline.com

URL to article: http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2011/09/05/labor-day-is-more-than-a-day-off-from-work/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7uzgPwmwxw

[2] Image: http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Labor_Day_New_York_1882.jpg

[3] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZkq7d4lyrw

[4] César Estrada Chávez: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/chavez.cfm

[5] Nelson Hale Cruikshank: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/cruikshank.cfm

[6] Eugene Victor Debs: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/debs.cfm

[7] Thomas Reilly Donahue: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/donahue.cfm

[8] Arthur Joseph Goldberg: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/goldberg.cfm

[9] Samuel Gompers: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/gompers.cfm

[10] William Green: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/green.cfm

[11] Joe Hill: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/hill.cfm

[12] Sidney Hillman: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/hillman.cfm

[13] Mother Jones: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/jones.cfm

[14] Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/mlk_index.cfm

[15] Lane Kirkland: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/kirkland.cfm

[16] John L. Lewis: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/lewis.cfm

[17] Lucy Randolph Mason: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/mason.cfm

[18] Peter J. McGuire: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/mcguire.cfm

[19] George Meany: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/meany.cfm

[20] Philip Murray: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/murray.cfm

[21] Frances Perkins: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/perkins.cfm

[22] Esther Eggersten Peterson: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/peterson.cfm

[23] A. Philip Randolph: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/randolph.cfm

[24] Walter Reuther: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/reuther.cfm

[25] Bayard Rustin: http://www.aflcio.org/aboutus/history/history/rustin.cfm

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