Which strike led to Labor Day becoming a national holiday?
Labor Day is held on the first monday in September every year, though its brutal origin was to suppress the wider workers’ rights movement in the US.
Labor Day is an annual celebration of workers’ rights in the US. While not occuring on the International Workers’ Day, May 1, Labor Day is the American equivalent that was specifically chosen not to coincide with the wider world labour movement.
The celebration is even more potent in 2022. Labour activity is at its highest in decades with many trade union breakthroughs, including the first unionised Amazon warehouse, despite the efforts of the bosses to suppress them.
1886 and the American trade union movement
With a true working class developing in the US at the end of the 19th century, workers began to demand greater rights in the workplace. The average person worked 7-days a week for 12-hours a day; simply not sustainable. With no minimum wage, jobs were often very poorly paid and children were required to find work in factories and on farms to boost the household income. The industrial revolution had made the workplace more demanding but workers were not adequately remunerated, so a series of strikes and protests were held to call for greater rights.
1886 was a pivotal year for the labour movement. On May 1, 1886 there was a general strike in the US with 350,000 workers taking part. They wanted to put pressure on the federal government to commit to an 8-hour work day. This culminated in the Haymarket protest. The protest, so peaceful that the mayor went home early, was set upon by police. In the ensuing riot 12 people were killed and dozens were injured. Instead of breaking the resolve of the protestors, workers united and formed the Labor Party of Chicago the same year.
Before this time many states were celebrating individual labour days, but after 1886 around 30 states (at the time there were only 38 states) celebrated the day. It became a federal holiday in 1894 on May 5.
What about May 1?
The legacy of the May 1, 1886 general strike lives on in the form of International Workers’ Day celebrated May 1 every year. At the meeting of the Second International of Workers in 1889 it was decided that workers globally would celebrate their holiday on this day.
At present, more than 160 countries worldwide celebrate International Workers’ Day.