The celebration of
Labor Day originated in Canada in the 1800s when a parade of support for the
Typographical Union was held in Toronto in 1872. The union was striking for a
58-hour work week. Several support strikes followed, and in 1873, the Canadian
Parliament passed the Trade Union Act which was designed to repeal anti-union
laws. Celebrations originally were held in the spring, coinciding with May Day
Workers Celebrations held in other parts of the world.
On July of 1882, the
Toronto Trades and Labour Council invited the president of the American
Federation of Labor, Peter J. McGuire, to speak at a labor festival.
In September of 1882, McGuire and the Knights of Labor organized a similar
parade in New York City, the first “Labor Day Parade” in the United
States. Although personally anti-union, United States President Grover Cleveland was forced into making Labor Day a national holiday in 1894 after several strikes in the
United States, notably the Pullman Railroad
Workers Strike in
Chicago which halted mail delivery. In June of that year, Congress passed a
bill that made the first Monday of September a National Labor Day Holiday.
The holiday has historically been celebrated with a parade followed by picnics.
Over the years, labor and political leaders were the featured speakers. In the
1930s and through World War II, the labor movement strengthened, especially in
Detroit Michigan, where Teamsters Union President Walter Reuther helped negotiate benefits such as paid
vacation time and sick leave.
From the 1940s through the
1960s, it became a tradition for Democratic Party candidates to officially
launch their general election campaigns in Detroit, boosted by strong union
support. But throughout the 1970s, the clout of the
union leaders dwindled, and the dwindling attendance at the Detroit parades
caused their cancellation until 1981.
Recently, Labor Day Parades and celebrations of union and other workers have been revived in Detroit and in Michigan, including the traditional walk/run across the Mackinac Bridge led by the current governor of Michigan.