The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Labor Day: Then and now

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Labor Day Parade, Union Square, New York, 1882 (Lithographie)

As evenings begin to grow cooler and the assignments steadily accumulate on our Canvas homepages, University students are faced with the reality of an escalating semester. 

Each year, the first weekend of September offers us a speed bump — nerves and stress are suspended for three all-too-brief days while we usher in the fall season and get our bearings for the fresh school year. 

Labor Day weekend is not only an excuse for tailgating and bar-hopping, but a holiday drenched in history and national identity.

The U.S. Department of Labor describes Labor Day as “an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.”

In the latter half of the 19th century, labor rights activists around the world sought to band together in support of workers’ interests. In 1882, U.S. trade unionists settled upon the first weekend of September as an annual occasion to collectively acknowledge the efforts of the country’s workers. 

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Although most documents cite a union carpenter named Peter McGuire as the originator of the holiday, there is contention that another prominent union activist — Matthew Maguire — was more central to Labor Day’s conception.

“In the 1870s, Matthew Maguire led several strikes, most of which were intended to force the plight of manufacturing workers and their long hours into the public consciousness,” an article by the DOL said. “By 1882, Maguire had become the secretary of and a leading figure in the Central Labor Union of New York.”

The DOL article explained that the primary reason for Maguire’s exclusion from historical accounts of Labor Day’s founding may have been his “radical” political views. According to the New Jersey Historical Society, Maguire was active in socialist politics.

According to the DOL, the country’s very first Labor Day parade was marked with displays of union pride, raucous conduct in the streets, singing and “lager beer kegs … mounted in every conceivable place.”

Oregon was the first state to formally acknowledge the holiday in 1887, with Illinois following suit in 1891. President Grover Cleveland ratified the federal holiday into law nationwide in 1894.

The ratification of the holiday was championed by several prominent labor activists according to PBS Newshour. One of these individuals was Eugene Debs, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. 

Labor Day is now widely observed through leisure activities such as sporting events, outdoor activities, food and consumerism, but many still honor the holiday’s history by showing their solidarity with local unions at parades.

Champaign’s Labor Day parade took place in the downtown area and was followed by a picnic in Westside Park hosted by the city. The event was organized by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, a coalition of unions that represents over 12 million active and retired workers.


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About the Contributor
Lisa Chasanov, Managing Editor for Reporting
Howdy! My name is Lisa, my game is delivering quality news to your phone screen, coffee table and recycling bin. Since fall 2022, I have had the honor of writing, editing and often-unsuccessfully pitching content for The Daily Illini. During my time at the 152-year-old news source, I have served as a reporter at our news desk, summer editor and assistant news editor. Most recently, after a rewarding year of bringing you hard-hitting stories such as “Uncut: Dissecting Circumcision” and “‘Surf’s Up’ could be the film of the summer,” I have taken over as managing editor for reporting. In my free time, you can find me performing open heart surgery in dark alleys, communicating telepathically with small woodland creatures and engaging in otherwise dubious activities. If you would like to summon me for any reason, you can find me at [email protected]. Good Yard. Stay tuned for more.
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