Float in the Detroit, Michigan Labor Day parade showing relationship between the Army, Red Cross and industrial workers. Photo: Arthur S. Siegel, 1942

This year, Labor Day is celebrated on Monday, September 6, with workers nationwide taking the day off in celebration of their contributions to the country.

The day first became a federal holiday in 1894 — at the height of the industrial revolution — after being fought for the labor movement through strikes, protests and general unrest.

At the time the holiday was signed into law, the average American was working 12 hour days seven days a week, and children as young as 5 or 6 were put to work. As unrest against the circumstances increased and the labor movement grew, protests and riots began erupting in American workplaces.

On September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day occurred when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off work to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City demanding better working conditions. The “workingmen’s holiday” caught on nationwide.

New York was the first state to introduce a bill making the day a holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass a law recognizing Labor Day, on February 21, 1887. During 1887, four more states – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York – passed laws creating a Labor Day holiday.

By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and in 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

The federal law was signed after the Pullman Palace Car Company employee strike, which stalled railroad traffic across the country. President Grover Cleveland, responding to the workers calls for a legal holiday, signed the holiday into law on June 28, 1894.

The day continues to be celebrated across the country, with most workplaces giving workers the day off to enjoy a three-day weekend.

In Brooklyn, a key part of Labor Day celebrations is the annual West Indian Day Parade Carnival celebrating West Indian culture. It is organized by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) and the main event is the West Indian Day Parade. The day typically attracts between one and three million participants, but it has been called off for the past two years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The parade typically has participants representing the majority of the Caribbean islands, including Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and Grenada, and Panama, plus some mainland Caribbean countries.

*Source: History.com, U.S. Department of Labor

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