Labor Day has become a holiday mostly associated with blow-out sales and backyard barbecues, but looking back at its origins reveals a highly political past. While its roots can be traced back to decades of civil discontent in the United States, the first Labor Day was on September 5, 1882 (which was actually a Tuesday). The celebration was a general strike in New York City, declared by the Central Labor Union, and consisted of a parade, a train ride to a local park, a picnic and other festivities. The parade took place in New York City, starting in lower Manhattan and ending at 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, at that time the site of the Croton Reservoir.
Thus the holiday was celebrated without the sanction of the federal government for twelve years. Although many states recognized the holiday by 1885 it wasn’t until 1894 that President Cleveland signed the Labor Day holiday bill making it an official national holiday. By this time another similar holiday was created, May Day, first celebrated on the first of May, 1886. It took a more militant approach: one circular called it “a day of revolt, not rest!” (found in this book on page 248). Ms. Olive Johnson, a socialist of the early twentieth century, explains the differences between the two holidays in her pamphlet, May Day vs. Labor Day.
Works consulted in the creation of this blog post include: Red white and blue letter days, an American calendar; The first Labor Day Parade, Tuesday September 5, 1882: Media mirrors to labor’s icons; Origin of Labor Day and chronology events pertaining to the establishment of Labor Day and May Day: a short history. If you're interested you may want to look at Your library can serve your union, which documents five library's efforts to raise awareness of Labor Day and Shinnecock Labor Day pow wow, which I haven't yet seen but imagine would offer an interesting perspective.