Originally created 09/07/98

Area celebrates season's end



Most everyone looks forward to Labor Day -- after all, it's a three-day weekend, right? A chance to squeeze in that last trip to the beach before cooler weather comes, or that last big neighborhood barbecue of the summer. All the stores have sales on fall clothes -- it's a great time to supplement the kids' back-to-school wardrobe.

And, speaking of school, everyone knows no one really gets serious about school until after Labor Day. It's the official unofficial end of summer -- even though the first day of autumn is still three weeks away. And even though shorts weather is likely to linger for a month or more.

But it's time for summer clothes to be packed away. Any genteel Southern lady knows not to don her white shoes and linen dresses again until Memorial Day rolls around.

"I'm from Wisconsin, so I always think of Labor Day as the last weekend of summer," said Lisa Howard, who recently moved to Augusta from Savannah, Ga., with her husband Paul.

"We don't really have any big plans," she said. "We'll probably take advantage of some of the music around town."

Jeanne and Fred Jennings of North Augusta plan to spend the weekend relaxing with family visiting from out of town.

"We're all retired, so it's not like it is for working couples," Mr. Jennings said. "It's just another day. I think of it as meaning the weather will get cooler soon. And also, that it's a day set aside for labor people in recognition of them. So they can spend a day not laboring."

The Labor Day celebrations of today -- pool parties, backyard barbecues and beach trips -- are a far cry from what the holiday's founders intended when they held the first Labor Day celebration 116 years ago.

Two men -- Matthew Maguire and Peter McGuire -- have been credited with first proposing the idea of a holiday celebrating American workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Mr. McGuire had been a leader in the labor movement for years, organizing workers by trade and instigating strikes for better working hours and better pay. He was head of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Some historical records name him as the first to suggest the holiday.

Others credit Mr. Maguire, a machinist from New Jersey, with first proposing the holiday. At the time, Mr. Maguire was secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

What is undisputed is that the first Labor Day parade was held Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. It was organized by the Central Labor Union. As many as 20,000 workers took an unpaid day off work to participate, marching with banners proclaiming "Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation!"

The organization staged the holiday again the following year on the same date, and in 1884 passed a resolution to designate the first Monday of each September as Labor Day and always hold a parade on that day.

The idea spread across the country. Cities and states began holding their own Labor Day celebrations, and in 1887 Oregon passed legislation recognizing it as a public holiday.

Later that year, four more states -- Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York -- followed suit. Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania had declared it a legal holiday by the end of the decade.

More states began to recognize Labor Day in their legislation, and by 1894 23 additional states had joined those that were first to officially recognize it as a holiday.

All this was taking place in the midst of a nationwide strike against Pullman Co., which made sleeper cars for passenger trains. The company's president, George Pullman, had laid off hundreds of employees and cut the wages of those who remained. Most of Mr. Pullman's employees lived in row houses that he owned and paid rent to him from their meager wages. After he reduced their wages, he refused to lower their rents accordingly. So they walked out on strike.

They were soon joined by the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs, and railroad workers across the United States boycotted trains that carried Pullman cars.

The strike turned violent when President Grover Cleveland deployed troops to break the strike. Two protesters in Illinois were killed.

The strike ended on Aug. 3, 1894, but many people criticized Mr. Cleveland's harsh strike-breaking methods. To appease the nation's laborers, Congress hurriedly approved legislation declaring Labor Day a national holiday.

Mr. Cleveland signed the bill into law only six days after the Pullman strike and the national Labor Day was born.

Over the years, the focus on labor has diminished. But people still enjoy a holiday from work and take advantage of the last long weekend until the winter holidays.