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Today in Labor History

Aug. 20, 1986
Deranged relief postal service carrier Patrick “Crazy Pat” Henry Sherrill shoots and kills 14 co-workers, and wounds another six, before killing himself at an Edmond, Oklahoma, postal facility. Supervisors had ignored warning signs of Sherrill’s instability, investigators later found; the shootings came a day after he had been reprimanded for poor work. The incident inspired the objectionable term “going postal.”

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Labor Day FAQs
Updated On: Sep 05, 2011

Q: When was Labor Day first celebrated in the United States?
A: After the first Labor Day in New York City, celebrations began to spread to other states as workers fought to win workplace rights and better working conditions and wages at a time when they had little power. ??In 1893, New York City workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of a national Labor Day. The following year, 12,000 federal troops were called into Pullman, Ill., to break up a huge strike against the Pullman railway company and two workers were shot and killed by U.S. deputy marshals.??In what most historians call an election-year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday. Cleveland lost the election.

Q: When did Labor Day become a national holiday?
A: After the first Labor Day in New York City, celebrations began to spread to other states as workers fought to win workplace rights and better working conditions and wages at a time when they had little power. In 1893, New York City workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of a national Labor Day. The following year, 12,000 federal troops were called into Pullman, Ill., to break up a huge strike against the Pullman railway company and two workers were shot and killed by U.S. deputy marshals. In what most historians call an election year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, shortly after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday.

Q: Who founded Labor Day?
A: That’s a matter of dispute among historians. Some say Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, first suggested a day to honor workers. Others credit Matthew Maguire, a machinist who served as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

Q: Is Labor Day just about unions?
A: No. The U.S. Department of Labor describes Labor Day this way: “It is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”

Q: What international holiday is Labor Day’s closet relative? A: May Day. In 1889, a workers’ congress in Paris voted to support the U.S. labor movement’s demand for an eight-hour workday. It chose May 1, 1890, as a day of demonstrations in favor of the eight-hour day. Afterward, May 1 became a holiday called Labor Day in many nations. It resembles the September holiday in the United States.


 
 
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