In the late 1800s, American work life was far from pretty. As industry shifted from fields to factories, the average person worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, frequently in unsafe and unsanitary environments. That included children, too.
To protest these conditions, U.S. labor unions began getting louder, holding strikes and rallies that often turned violent. In Canada, however, unions were illegal. So there, in 1872, workers demonstrated their solidarity with a group of striking Toronto printers by taking to the streets — a parade that became an annual event.
A decade later, on September 5, 1882, 10,000 American workers followed suit, marching through New York City to draw attention to their rights and achievements. According to the New York Tribune, it was the “first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization,” and was followed by a party with speeches, food, cigars, and kegs.
Over the next few years, more and more states adopted the newfound September tradition. But it wasn’t until 1894, when a railroad workers strike led to riots that killed more than a dozen, that Congress decided to appease the public by recognizing Labor Day as a national holiday. And it wasn’t until 1938 that the federal government actually set a minimum wage and maximum workweek, as well as limitations on child labor.
Why We Celebrate Labor Day — And Why It’s the Perfect Time to Advance Your Career is written by Susan Shain for www.chime.com