Though many states had already established Labor Day, it did not become a federal holiday until 1894, just 6 days after Grover Cleveland and the 14,000 troops he ordered to Chicago (1,936 federal troops, 4000 National Guard, 5000 extra deputy marshalls, 250 extra deputy sheriffs, 3000 Chicago policemen), had smashed the Pullman strike. Many have interpreted this as his poor attempt to assuage angry labor throughout the nation as a result of the national brute and bloody force which put the strikers down and put Eugene Debs in jail.
Though many of the states that celebrated the holiday before it became national celebrated it in September, labor wished for the day to be celebrated on May 1, the day which commemorates the Haymarket Massacre in 1886 (also in Chicago), and the date on which every country in the world celebrates their Labor Day, except for the United States and Canada. Grover Cleveland, wanting to keep the celebration as far away as possible from the Haymarket affair and as far away as possible from the notion that the ability to protest and to organize is something to celebrate, signed this into law as a federal holiday to be celebrated on the first Monday in September.
Labor Day is a day we take for granted to celebrate with family and friends. As we grill and drink beer, we need to more deeply consider this holiday’s roots in the marriage of Corporate America and the Federal Government working hand in hand to continue to squeeze labor for as much profit as possible. There is much work still to do. Every day is Labor Day.