What is Labor Day? Why do we celebrate it?

By Melissa Shrader Editor/Publisher Fort Collins Macaroni Kid August 28, 2023

Imagine going to work and working for 12-16 hours every day usually with minimal or no break. Then imagine going to work at the age of 10 or younger. No breaks, no time to eat. You can’t go to the bathroom or eat when you need or take time off for a vacation. Sometimes you would work in a horrible circumstances.  Bad lighting, smelly, hot or cold rooms.  Usually for very little pay. 

Then a group gets together and holds a protest. One of these groups was the Knights of Labor. As one of the first groups to stand up for the rights of workers across America they led the way making everyone aware of these and other horrible conditions. Many hundreds of other unions and thousands of people began to protest.

This group and others fought to put rules and regulations in place to make the workplace safer for workers. Shorter work days (they asked for 10 hour days and later 8 hour days) and $2.00 raise. Many worked for trade. A place to sleep or clothes on their back. 

After many protests and public outcry, it was clear to the government that things needed to change. 

President Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day was to be on the first Monday in September. The first Labor Day was held September 5th, 1882 and was created to stop riots that were breaking out across America.

Oregon was the first state to declare Labor Day as law. Several other states followed a few at a time including Colorado. By 1894 Congress incorporated the law in the District of Columbia and its territories. 

The American Federation of Labor declared in 1909 that the Sunday prior to Labor Day was to be Labor Sunday. On this day the spiritual and educational ideas of the labor movement would be emphasized. 

The first Labor Day was celebrated much like today with parades, picnics, and fireworks. 10,000 workers took an unpaid holiday to march in the first Labor Day parade held in New York. 

So, what is Labor Day? It’s a celebration of those who go to work and bring home the pay everyday so that their families can live.  

What does Labor Day mean to you?