Scroll Top

4 Ironic Labor Day Facts That Will Surprise You

Social and economic achievements of U.S. workers on Labor Day.
  • The U.S. Adoption of this American Holiday Is Rumored To Have Canadian Roots

As one story goes, Peter J. McGuire, a leader of the American Federation of Labor, first proposed the holiday in May 1882 after experiencing the annual labor festival celebrated in Toronto, Canada.
Now this version of the holiday’s origin has been widely disputed, but actually the history books are altogether unsure who truly deserves credit for first proposing the holiday—was it Peter J. McGuire or Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union? No one knows, but what’s certain is the holiday’s troubled birthplace, occurring in the dark days of American industrial labor.
Labor Day Cartoon
Cartoonist: Carolita Johnson

  • Labor Day Was Established to Remedy then President Cleveland’s Failed Attempt at Settling Labor Strikes That Turned Deadly

Imagine slogging through 12 hour workdays, 7-day workweeks, and 5-year-old children slaving away in factories alongside adults. Welcome to the 1800s.
In 1893, a severe depression drove down demand for new train passenger cars. Railroad company owner George Pullman cut workers’ wages but refused to lower their rents. A nation-wide labor strike ensued and then President Grover Cleveland called in military muscle—a move that resulted in regrettable violence of 30 deaths, 57 injured, and $80M dollars in property damage. To appease workers, the President rushed Congress to recognize Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894.
Although congress swiftly established Labor Day as a holiday within just six days of ending the Pullman Strike, it would take 23 more years for the Adamson Act to pass and establish the 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek we know today—a standard that has recently received its own critiques by Google founders, as well as popular conspiracy theories.

  • Labor Day Is One of the Biggest U.S. Sales Weekends, Forcing Retail Industry Employees to Work Some of Their Longest Hours

While big discounts can turn Labor Day into a fun shopping spree for many, they also drive the longest, toughest workdays for many Americans—more specifically, our largest labor group, retail employees.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released in April 2014, retail salespersons and cashiers were the occupations with the largest employment in May 2013.

“These two occupations combined made up nearly 6 percent of total U.S. employment, with employment levels of 4.5 million and 3.3 million, respectively….Most of the largest occupations were relatively low paying.”

Ironically, these big sales have become an American tradition tied to nationally observed holidays—like Labor Day and Black Friday—which are increasingly becoming the battleground for labor strikes and walkouts.
Retailers this year are competing so fiercely for your Labor Day dollar that some have already posted their Labor Day discounts at rates unseen outside of Black Friday sales.

Michael Kors Tweet

  • Wearing White Before Labor Day Is Rumored To Have Been a Way to Symbolically Distance Oneself from the Working Class

According to a TIME Magazine article, the practice of switching from summer whites to darker, autumn work wear may have been more than just a fashion statement, but rather a status symbol:

“Instead, other historians speculate, the origin of the no-white-after–Labor Day rule may be symbolic. In the early 20th century, white was the uniform of choice for Americans well-to-do enough to decamp from their city digs to warmer climes for months at a time: light summer clothing provided a pleasing contrast to drabber urban life. ‘If you look at any photograph of any city in America in the 1930s, you’ll see people in dark clothes,’ says Scheips, many scurrying to their jobs. By contrast, he adds, the white linen suits and Panama hats at snooty resorts were “a look of leisure.”

Despite its ironic beginnings and traditions, the spirit of celebrating the social and economic achievements of U.S. workers on Labor Day still holds strong and true.
From all of us at CareerArc, we wish you a well-deserved and Happy Labor Day.

Related Posts

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.