Labor Day: A Jersey guy may be to thank for our 3-day weekend
Did you know you probably have a Jersey Guy to thank for the long holiday weekend?
Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It also recognizes the deplorable working conditions many endured.
It seems difficult today to comprehend the working conditions of the 1800s. The History Channel chronicles some of what workers endured: “The average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.”
According to an article written for the New Jersey Historical Society by Special Collections Librarian Grace-Ellen McCrann, files at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark show that Matthew Maguire of Paterson was not only a man to be reckoned with in the beginning days of the American labor movement, but was probably the man behind the creation of Labor Day.
Maguire’s passion was the improvement of working conditions, and he led his first strike for a shorter work day in the 1870s, according to the article which goes on to say that in 1882, Maguire was secretary of Paterson Local 344 of the Machinists and Blacksmiths Union. He also became one of the organizers of the Central Labor Union of New York, according to the article.
The first Labor Day Parade was held in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882 under the aegis of the Central Labor Union, according to McCrann's article. It’s worth noting the first parade was on a Tuesday, not a Monday.
The article said Matthew Maguire sent out the invitations and rode in the first carriage at the head of the parade. Estimates from the time have as many as 25,000 people marched and enjoyed a picnic afterward, according to the article.
Since Labor Day was not yet a holiday, many of those attending gave up a day’s pay to participate, according to the publication.
If you have never heard of him, or his affiliation with the creation of Labor Day, you are not alone.
Historical texts paint Maguire as something of a radical and a socialist. His passions extended beyond the labor movement and into the realm of social reforms.
He ran for vice president in 1896 on the ticket for the National Socialist Labor Party.
Some historians believe Maguire’s radical politics were too much for the American labor movement, and efforts were made to deliberately downplay his contributions to make the movement seem more moderate and apolitical.
However, there are several writings from the era that do credit his involvement, including an editorial from the Paterson Morning Call newspaper in 1894 that referred to Maguire as the “Father of the Labor Day holiday,” according to McCrann's article.
In any event, The New Jersey Historical Society notes New Jersey was on the forefront of the labor movement.
We were one of the first states in 1887 to make Labor Day a state holiday.
In 1894, Congress passed a bill designating the first Monday in September as the national holiday we now enjoy.