According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there remains speculation over which McGuire (or is it Maguire?) is to credit for the start of Labor Day. New evidence suggests it was Matthew Maguire, though many still believe it was Peter McGuire.
While Matthew Maguire was the secretary of the New York Labor Union in 1882 and led a strike in 1870 with the intended goal of making union leaders aware of the harsh long work hours, most historians say Labor Day was the idea of Peter McGuire. He was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, and is said to have first suggested a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
“Labor day should be celebrated by a street parade which would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” added McGuire as he stood before the New York Central Labor Union in 1882.
McGuire probably had no idea he had just founded the largest trade union at the time in partnering with Samuel Gompers, another patriarch of the American labor movement. Together they would influence the eight-hour workday by utilizing both the Carpenters and AFL unions to lead the 1886 and 1890 strikes.
Today’s New York Daily News article, Labor Day stems from deadly labor strike, but few Americans know the history, reminds us that Labor Day also owes its creation to “an awful confrontation in Chicago in 1894 that saw federal marshals and the Army soldiers kill 30 striking Pullman railroad workers.” The incident prompted Congress and President Grover Cleveland to draft emergency legislation and hastily pass the holiday.
While some of us still wind up working longer than eight hour days, at least most can enjoy one day a week to unwind and take a load off. So, while the nation gathers around the BBQ this Labor Day, be thankful for the trailblazing Americans who stood up for workers’ rights, some even trading their lives for the benefits we now enjoy.