Labor Day is an American federal holiday that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. It also symbolizes the end of summer and is celebrated with family picnics, parties, parades and athletic events.
On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall, past reviewing stands in Union Square, and then uptown to 42nd Street, the workers and their families gathered in Wendel’s Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. The first Labor Day celebration was eagerly organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions. Debate continues to this day as to who originated the idea of a workers’ holiday, but it definitely emerged from the ranks of organized labor at a time when they wanted to demonstrate the strength of their burgeoning movement and inspire improvements in their working conditions.
New York’s Labor Day celebrations inspired similar events across the country. Oregon became the first state to grant legal status to the holiday in 1887; other states soon followed. In 1894, Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.
For many decades, Labor Day was viewed by workers not only as a means to celebrate their accomplishments, but also as a day to air their grievances and discuss strategies for securing better working conditions and salaries. Nowadays, Labor Day is associated less with union activities and protest marches and more with leisure. For many, the holiday is a time for family picnics, sporting events, and summer’s last hurrah.