Colorado Was at the Forefront of the Labor Day Movement

Did you know, Colorado was one of the first few states to pass initiatives to recognize workers?  

Although Oregon was technically "first", Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York all likewise passed laws recognizing labor days in the same year, 1871.  Prior to that, labor recognition occurred at the municipal level, and about 20 years afterwards, the nation followed suit.


There is some dispute about the true "founder" of Labor Day, though.  Under any version of events, it is clear, though, that the unions played a key role. In some versions of what occurred, Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was responsible. While in other versions, Matthew Maguire, a machinist and later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. (see the Department of Labor's site for more info, and later I'll cite to History.com too).

The date of the national observance of Labor Day has remained relatively unchanged for over 100 years, since its inception in the late 1880's. However, the Sunday before Labor Day was once known as "Labor Sunday" and was "dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement."

On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.

The very first Labor Day was also very nearly a disaster. The parade was all staged, with a police escort, but no participants! It wasn't until the Jewelers Union of Newark Two crossed the river with a marching band that the parade could actually occur.  And then nobody wanted to go home! As the crowd grew to somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 people, they no longer recognized the designated termination point, instead marching onward to a further park where they enjoyed post-parade festivities, including speeches, a picnic, cigars, and "Lager beer kegs... mounted in every conceivable place."  Ultimately, what resulted was the first labor day parade, over a decade before the date was nationally recognized.

Labor Day is not without violence though. What sparked the start of the labor movement and the founding of unions--unfair worker conditions, lengthy hours, 7 day work weeks,  and child labor--ultimately led to the adoption of the holiday to recognize workers. During the Haymarket Affair in Chicago on May 4,1886, police and workers were engaged in violent protests, involving seven police officer and four civilian deaths. This outbreak of violence led most countries to identify May 1, 2016 as their worker's holiday (International Worker's Day, Workman's Day, or Labour Day, for example).  But the US national government specifically chose another date, to avoid having to recognize this violent event.  The federal government relied on the New York unions designation of the first Monday in September rather than legitimize the Chicago unions' actions.