Happy Birthday, Labor Day

The birthday of Labor Day – this much we know: born: Tuesday, September 5, 1882; birthplace: New York City; name: none, at first, just a “Demonstration of Labor, Mammoth, Festival, Parade, and Pic-Nic”; paternity: ah, here we have a problem, for historians, like horse players, have their favorite picks. As to the “Father” of Labor Day there has been for many years a front runner – Peter J. McGuire, founder of the carpenter’s union and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor; and there has been a “dark horse” – Matthew Maguire, Knights of Labor member, Secretary of Machinists’ local, and an organizer of the Central Labor Committee (CLU).

Each contender for the title has his rooters, but no clear winner emerges. For example, citing newspaper articles looking back on the 1882 inaugural parade, historian Jonathan Grossman provided quotations noting that P.J. McGuire “urged the propriety of setting aside one day in the year to be designated as ‘Labor Day’,” in that “Matthew Maguire…suggested that the Central Labor Committee call upon the trade and labor organizations…to join a labor parade.”

Given this and other such competing evidence, paternity may never be resolved. But then, what is really of importance? It is the meaning of the holiday, and for that we can turn, without taking sides, to the words of Peter J. McGuire, “It was reserved for the American people to give birth to Labor Day. In this they honor the toilers of the earth.”

Marc Ross, Ph.D., a retired historian and educator, of Sun Lakes, who now teaches seniors.