New York City

New York City: Home of Labor Day

Labor Day is now observed all across the country, but New York City is widely credited as the host of the first celebration of the holiday.

On Sept. 5, 1882, thousands of workers participated in a parade of labor unions in Manhattan that ended with a picnic and speeches. The event, organized by an umbrella group called the Central Labor Union, reflected the growing strength of the labor movement. The march also served a specific purpose: to demonstrate for an eight-hour workday.

The second Labor Day was celebrated in New York City exactly one year later, on Sept. 5, 1883. The following year organizers set the date as the first Monday in September, and in 1885 other cities began to hold their own Labor Day events to honor workers.

In 1887, Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday, followed shortly by New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Colorado. 

Some labor groups at the time called for the holiday to be held instead on May 1 – a date many countries around the world have since adopted – to commemorate a bloody worker rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in May of 1886 in which a number of protesters and police were killed. But in 1894, President Grover Cleveland officially established the national holiday as the first Monday in September. Cleveland was facing a backlash for another bloody confrontation after he deployed the Army to suppress a strike against the Pullman Palace Car Co. Creating the official national holiday was an effort to mend ties, but he wanted to pick a more neutral date than May 1.

This year’s New York City Labor Day Parade, scheduled for Sept. 12, will take place on Fifth Avenue between 44th and 67th streets. It will feature 1199 SEIU President George Gresham as the grand marshal and Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda as the parade chairman. 

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