The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5th, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday a year later, on September 5th, 1883.
On September 5th, 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.
Labor Day parade, Main Street, Buffalo, NY, ca. 1900.
This 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.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
Here are some quick tips on how to celebrate labor the union way:
Fire up your Weber grill, made by the International Union of Allied Novelty and Production Workers.
Grill some all-beef Butterball patties. If you are in the mood for hot dogs and brats, Oscar Meyer, Nathan’s and Johnsonville have what you are looking for.
Add some Heinz Ketchup, Gulden’s Mustard and Vlasic pickles.
Throw it all on a Wonder Bread bun.
Funyuns, Fritos and Doritos are good side options.
Wash it all down with a cold Budweiser or any other union-made brew. And there’s Minute Maid juices for the younger set.
Update: The Agonist has some good reading about Eugene V. Debs, who ran for president in 1920 from his prison cell.
When Republican Warren Harding was elected, he commuted Debs' sentence and invited him to the White House. The day after leaving the Atlanta Penitentiary, Harding greeted Debs at the White House with these words: "Well, I've heard so damned much about you, Mr. Debs, that I am now glad to meet you personally." It was a different time.