They’re a vital force that has contributed to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known. They’ve tirelessly championed our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. And they’re the source of much of our nation’s strength, prosperity, and freedom.
They’re the American workers.
For most people, Labor Day is a time for parades, picnics, and barbecues as summer ends and kids go back to school. But the holiday was actually created by the labor movement over 100 years ago, born from a tumultuous time in an effort to pay tribute to the social and economic achievements of American workers.
How did it all begin?
More than 100 years after that first Labor Day observance, there’s still some debate about who first proposed the holiday. Historical records indicate that Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to propose it. But recent research seems to point to Matthew Maguire, a machinist and later secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J, as the true founder of the holiday.
Regardless of who gets the credit, it was the labor unions that made the holiday a reality.
As manufacturing increasingly replaced agriculture as the wellspring of American employment during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, labor unions became more prominent and outspoken, organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and urge their employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Many events turned violent, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886 in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed.
Other events led to longstanding traditions. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off work to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” celebrated on the first Monday of every September soon caught on in other cities and states across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.
It took 12 years and a crisis in American labor before the federal government would act. In May 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. The American Railroad Union soon called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the strike, the federal government sent troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that ended in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.
In the wake of this tragic event, Congress passed an act on June 28 of that year, officially making the first Monday in September a federal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. We’ve been celebrating Labor Day ever since.
Although labor conditions have improved dramatically, the financial risk of disability continues to be devastating. If workers become temporarily or permanently disabled and unable to work, due to injury or illness, they face huge financial uncertainties.
One important way you can “pay tribute to the social and economic achievements of American workers” is to protect clients from financial ruin by safeguarding them with paycheck protection. Paycheck protection is vital to the strength of our economy and essential for protecting the American workers whose efforts we recognize every Labor Day.
Need help reaching out to your clients? Download our free client handout “The Top Five Reasons for Income Protection.”