Friday, August 31, 2007
Why isn't Labor Day on May 1st?
"For many workers around the world, May Day... is dedicated to to the interests of the laborer. It is observed in practically every advanced industrial country except the United States, and is a public holiday in several countries in Western Europe." -- The American Book of Days REF GT4803 D6 2000
So why do Americans celebrate Labor Day in September? The Folklore of American Holidays (REF GT4803 F65 1999) suggests that Labor Day in September makes a nice book-end to Memorial Day in May -- the opening and closing of the season.
Actually, the Knights of Labor suggested that Labor Day be observed on the first Monday in September as far back as 1882.
However, in 1890 the Second International (socialist congress) decreed that "There shall be organized a great international demonstration at a fixed date, so that on the agreed day, in every country, and in every town, the workers shall call upon the state for legal reduction in the working day to eight hours...In view of the fact that a similar demonstration has been decided by the American Federation of Labor for the First of May 1890...this date is adopted for the international deomnstration."
"Countries with socialist or communist forms of government still celebrate May 1 with speeches and displays of military strength. The May Day Parade in Moscow's Red Square is one of the better known examples [see above]." -- Holiday Symbols and Customs REF GT3930 T48 2003
So why doesn't the US celebrate Labor Day on May 1st?
The American Book of Days suggests "The communist and socialist overtones of the event [May Day], in addition to the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, have prevented May Day from being officially recognized as a labor holiday in the United States or from gaining popular acceptance in that regard."
To find out more about our holidays and where they came from, visit the Reference Section of the Library.