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August 29, 2006 > Labor Day then and now

Labor Day then and now

by Linda Stone

The idea for Labor Day came from Peter J. McGuire, a union leader, in 1882. McGuire, who is considered the "Father of Labor Day," fought for the eight-hour workday and collaborated with other union leaders on legislation to create a day that would honor workers. "No festival of martial glory or warrior's renown is this; no pageant pomp of war-like conquest... attend(s) this day. It is dedicated to Peace, Civilization, and the triumphs of Industry. It is a demonstration of fraternity and the harbinger of a better age - a more chivalrous time, when labor shall be best honored and well rewarded," said McGuire.

Celebration of this "workingmen's holiday" spread with the growth of labor organizations. By 1885, Labor Day was observed in many industrial centers of the country. On June 28, 1894 Congress passed an act making it a legal holiday. The first day in September was chosen to provide a break between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

Union organizers struggled long and hard to create better working conditions. In the late 1800s, people sometimes worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. Few laws existed to protect workers' rights and abuse by employers was rampant. Long hours, low pay, no benefits and little redress created an atmosphere of anger and despair. As a result, workers began to organize. Protests and strikes became the mode in which the labor unions won the rights they enjoy today. By about 1940, fully one-third of American workers belonged to unions.

With less than nine percent of workers unionized today, Labor Day has changed from primarily a union day to a one celebrating all workers. Unofficially marking the end of summer, this holiday has evolved into three-day, fun filled weekend for families to get away, complete with picnics, barbeques and extra time with friends. But don't forget to take time to remember those long-gone workers who fought hard for the recognitions of their achievements in the workplace.

If you haven't made plans yet, here are some of events taking place around the Bay Area this weekend.

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