The Disputed History of Labour
Unlike May Day,
celebrated on May 1 in most parts of the world, with its clear history
originating from the Chicago Haymarket police riot against striking
workers in 1886, Labour Day’s roots are less certain.
There is some doubt and confusion as to
when or who started Labour Day. Here are some points of importance to
how it all started.
April 15, 1872 Toronto Trades Assembly
organized the first North American "workingman's demonstration.” Some
10,000 Torontonians turned out to watch a parade and to listen to
speeches calling for abolition of the law that decreed, "trade unions
were criminal conspiracies in restraint of trade.”
Later that year, on September 3, members of seven unions in Ottawa Canada organized a parade that
stretched for more than a mile long. The parade stopped at the home of
Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. They brought him into a carriage
and marched to the Ottawa City Hall by torchlight. The Prime
Minister was aware of the discontent of workers with the laws which made
unions illegal so he made this declaration that his party would "sweep
away all such barbarous laws from the statute books.” These laws were
repealed by Parliament later that year and the tradition of holding
parades and demonstrations was continued on into the early 1880s.
On July 22, 1882, Matthew Maguire, secretary of Local 344 of the
International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J. proposed a
holiday for labourers while serving as secretary of the Central Labour
Union in New York. That day was to be celebrated in early September.
That same year, Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood
of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of
Labour, suggested a day to honour workers. On September 5, 1882, the Central Labour Union
held its first Labour Day holiday in New York City. A second Labour Day was
again held a year later on September 5,
The following year, the first Monday in September was selected as the
holiday, and the Central Labour Union urged similar organizations in
other cities to also celebrate a "workingman's holiday" on that date.
February 21, 1887, the State of Oregon passed the first bill to
become law making Labour Day an official holiday.
Seven years later, on June 29, 1894, the United States Congress passed
an act making the first Monday of September of each year a legal holiday
in the District of Columbia and the territories including all federal
workers in all states. By then, 31 states had done already enacted
their own Labour Day—all not September 5.
Finally, on July 23, 1894, the Canadian government
enacted legislation making Labour Day, the first Monday of September of
each year into a national holiday.