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TAP into West Orange Invites Public to Vote on "True Father of Labor Day"

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Who is the Father of Labor Day? Credits: US Dept. of Labor
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WEST ORANGE, NJ - While everyone takes for granted that the first Monday in Sept. is Labor Day, not many people know who to thank for this extra day off from work. And, to make matters worse, there are two men with similar names credited with proposing the holiday for workers— Peter McGuire, a carpenter and Matthew Maguire, a machinist from Paterson, NJ. Now, more than 100 years after the first celebration of the holiday, The United States Department of Labor is asking for the public’s opinion in this matter. Those interested in helping to solve the debate over “Who is the Father of Labor Day,” may vote HERE.

TAP into West Orange is curious too. Readers are encouraged to place their vote on the TAP into West Orange Facebook page and TAP will announce the winner. While there, readers are asked to ‘like” the page and share it with residents so all can stay on top of the daily news and columns run on TAP into West Orange.

In the meantime, TAP into West Orange wishes all TAP readers and TAP advertisers a fun and safe Labor Day Weekend celebration.

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History of Labor Day

According to the US Dept. of Labor, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, 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.

Some records show that McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first to suggest a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold," according to the US Dept. of Labor.

However, others believe that Maguire, a machinist, not McGuire, founded the holiday, according to the US Dept. of Labor. In fact, recent research supports the contention that Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, NJ, proposed the holiday in 1882, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

According to the US Dept. of Labor, it is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. The first Labor Day observance was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883, according to the US Dept. of Labor.

DOL's Historian on the History of Labor Day

Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department of Labor historian, provided the following details about the history of Labor Day in 2011 on the DOL website.

“When studying the history of Labor Day, two names stand out, and the funny thing is that they sound just alike. One is Peter J. McGuire, a leading official in the American Federation of Labor and organizer of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. The other is Matthew Maguire, a machinist from the Knights of Labor. The problem with declaring a single “founder” of Labor Day is that, at the time, no one realized that a new national holiday was being born. It was only after the fact that people tried to pinpoint a single founding father.

Seven years after that first New York Labor Day parade, the union journal for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters published an article claiming that their union brother, McGuire, made the original proposal to have the Labor Day event in New York and called for one day a year to be set aside as Labor Day. This article was reprinted yearly, and it became the common assumption that these were the facts.

However, in 1967, a retired machinist from Maguire’s union stepped up and claimed that his union brother was, in fact, the true originator of the movement for a national Labor Day. He pointed to an old newspaper article written nine years after the New York Labor Day parade titled “Labor Day: Its History and Development in the Land.” This article claimed that the first Secretary of the Central Labor Union, Maguire, was the one who arranged the parade. This claim was supported six years later when the grand marshal of the New York parade of 1882, himself, reminisced about how Maguire from the Knights of Labor had first suggested that the Central Labor Union call upon the unions of New York City to join together in a labor parade.

So the historical conundrum seems to hinge on the fact that the two names sound alike and were probably mixed up in the common consciousness. Toss in the years of bitter rivalry between the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor and, of course, you’re going to have multiple heroes emerging in the legend of Labor Day.

I don’t really know if there is only one true parent of Labor Day. But when former Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz spoke at the convention of the International Association of Machinists in 1968, he said: “My decision…is that there is no question as to who is the father of Labor Day in this country. Officially, as of this moment, insofar as the Department of Labor is concerned, it is Matt Maguire, machinist!” So in the question of McGuire versus Maguire, I don’t really know. But my money backs Bill Wirtz every time!”

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