Monday, September 03, 2012

Commentary: Labor Day and Peter McGuire

Read the full article by Sharon K. Williams

"No festival of martial glory or warrior’s renown is this; no pageant pomp of war-like conquest … attend[s] this day. It is dedicated to Peace, Civilization, and the triumphs of Industry. It is a demonstration of fraternity and the harbinger of a better age—a more chivalrous time, when labor shall be best honored and well rewarded."—Peter McGuire

Peter J. McGuire, a young carpenter, stood before New York’s Central Labor Union on May 12, 1882, to suggest an idea of setting aside one day a year to honor labor. His idea was simple. The day should "be celebrated by a street parade which would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organization."
"No festival of martial glory or warrior’s renown is this; no pageant pomp of war-like conquest … attend[s] this day. It is dedicated to Peace, Civilization, and the triumphs of Industry. It is a demonstration of fraternity and the harbinger of a better age—a more chivalrous time, when labor shall be best honored and well rewarded."—Peter McGuire

The trade unionists, enthusiastic about the idea, quickly established a committee to plan the event. The committee chose the first Monday in September because "it would come at the most pleasant season of the year, nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and would fill a wide gap in the chronology of legal holidays."

McGuire, a man of many talents, became known as the "Father of Labor Day." He was born into a poor family on July 6, 1852, in a Lower East Side tenement in New York City. His working career began at the age of 13. He held many different jobs and was quoted as saying, "I have been everything but a sword swallower…and sometimes I was so hungry, a sword—with mustard, of course—would have tasted fine."

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