Labor Day history
Labor Day celebrates the contributions of everyday working families. Labor Day is an important United States federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. In 2011, the holiday falls on September 5.
The first Labor Day in history was observed on August 26, 1878 in Boston by the Central Labor Union of New York. This union was an early trade union organization that later broke up into various locals which are now AFL-CIO members.
Following the deaths of 13 workers during the Pullman Strike in June of 1894, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority and Labor Day became a federal holiday.
Pullman Strike: The strike at the heart of Labor Day history
During the major economic depression of the early 1890s, the Pullman Palace Car Company cut wages in its factories. Discontented workers joined the American Railway Union (ARU), led by Eugene V. Debs, which supported their strike by launching a boycott of all Pullman cars on all railroads. ARU members across the nation refused to switch Pullman cars onto trains. When these switchmen were disciplined, the entire ARU struck the railroads on June 26, 1894. Within four days, 125,000 workers on twenty-nine railroads had quit work rather than handle Pullman cars.
The strike was broken up by United States Marshals and some 2,000 United States Army troops, sent in by President Grover Cleveland on the premise that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. Mail. During the strike, 13 workers were killed and 57 were wounded.
(It is) the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.
— In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, said this about Labor Day.