In 1871 a group of 20,000 men took to the streets in New York in what was known as the Great Eight Hour Parade, or, the Parade of Working Men. The parade was really more of a protest, but since it was a large group of white people, they just call it a parade. They were protesting the working conditions of the time and demanding that the work day be cut to 8 hours per day. There were at least 19 unions represented, and the papers reported anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 people present.
A cannon was being pushed down the street with a large banner saying “Eight Hour-Law. Peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must”, and other banners with sayings such as “when peaceful efforts fail, then revolution”.
The parade was organized by the Knights of Labor, who at the time were a clandestine group trying to form a centralized labor union for all workers, and who were also a group of hardcore Socialists. The red flag of Socialism flew over most of the parade, as it would for the next decade or more.
One of the young up and comers in the socialist movement was a man known as P J McGuire, later known as Peter J McGuire. Peter was considered an extreme radical, with the opposition even calling him a Communist, a claim that he denied. Peter was in favor of abolishing the wage system, and replacing it with a stead co-operative production, with a just distribution of its rewards. Peter fought for the abolition of child labor, prison labor to private sources, and against any law that would prohibit workers to unionize. Peter also fought for things such as abolishing the private baking industry, and making all banks a government function, to say the least, even in todays standards, Peter was a radical.
In January, 1874, Peter, along with several hundred men, went to City Hall to demand answers as to why the work on two projects had been halted, and to demand the worker begin so people could feed their families. They were there to speak to the Aldermen of the city government but the police would not let them enter.
That’s when Peter turned to the crowd and said “Please remain where you are, do no violence in the meantime….when they refuse it will be time to enforce our rights”. Suddenly, the door to the building then swung open from behind the police line, and Peter pushed his way through along with the four other representatives of the union.
After the men did not get any of answer they were seeking from the Alderman, they went to the clerk to find out why the projects were not started, only to find that the Alderman had lied to them about his role. Marching back to the council chambers, they were met again with police but Peter again pushed his way through and forced himself back into the chambers to let them know of their findings.
Just days later, another “parade” was to be held, and Peter sought a permit to march back to city hall but it was denied. The police told him that if they tried to march in the square, that they would be “met with violence”, which is exactly what happened.
Peter wanted to have the parade of working men end at City Hall, but the police denied him the permit to do so, which caused Peter to perform a sit in and he refused to leave until he was arrested by police.
The next night, 7000 men marched into Tompkins Square, and 1500 police met them with brutal force, with one person dying and 46 men arrested. It was known as the Tompkins Square Riots, and it was Peter J McGuire who was at the helm, which left a stain on his and the movements reputations.
The first years couple of years the event was known at either The Working Men’s Parade, or The Parade of Working Men, with Peter McGuire leading the marches. Peter was a paid agitator for the Socialist Democratic Party, and his job during the 1870’s, was to travel around the United States seeking to agitate the locals to have their own “parades”, which were really more like walk outs, which were followed by a protest in the streets. His job was to pump up the base and recruit new units of the Socialist party, of which he did very well.
On May 1st 1881, Peter held a Working Men’s Parade in a small city in NJ just outside of Philadelphia called Camden, where Peter and his union convinced thousands of men walked out of work.
Just a couple of days before the Camden Parade was to take place, Peter was arrested for conspiracy to start a riot, as well as threat of bodily injury for threats allegedly made to an ex union member, who Peter admitted to calling a scab and a rat, but denied that he ever threatened him.
In that same year, Peter did something that he said he had no intention of ever doing, he ran for office in the 19th ward under the Democratic Socialist ticket, and he won convincingly.
On July 5th, 1882 a socialist labor leader from Ireland, Michael Davitt, was welcomed by the Secretary of the Central Labor Union, Matthew McGuire, along with thousands of union members to hear him speak. The speech was followed by a massive demonstration in the streets, with the people demanding such things; as an eight hour work day, no more child labor, and safer working conditions. The demonstration was considered to not be very successful, so Mathew McGuire planned another demonstration for September 5th.
On September 5th, 1882 the Central Labor Union sponsored the largest gathering ever put together for what was then known as the Parade of Working Men, some newspapers estimated that as many as 50,000 marchers were present.
The marchers were carrying signs saying things like “No man can make land, hence no individual should own it”, and “Down with the railroad monopoly”.
Matthew McGuire, who was also a member of the Knights Of Labor, as well as the socialist democratic party, decided to invite several local politicians and dignitaries so they could stand with him and watch the parade from the grand stand.
A nephew of one of the Union leaders was so enamored by the parade that he loudly proclaimed to the group of powerful politicians and union leaders, one of them being his uncle, that, “This is labor day in earnest, Uncle Dick”, which is a comment that they liked so much that they decided to rename the Parade Of Working Men, which had already been taking place for over a decade, “Labor Day”. If you do a search and ask “when did labor day begin?”, the answer comes up as September 5th, 1882, but we now know the truth in that it began a decade earlier.
Even though the parades were taking place every year after the massive event in 1882, it wasn’t until five years later that the city of New York created the first official holiday to recognize the first Monday in September as Labor Day, a date that has stuck with it for almost 150 years.
The parade’s had been taking place all over the country for over a decade, with hundreds of news stories regarding the events, but just like most things politicians see that they think could be useful for their political gain, the historical narrative has been misappropriated so they can pat themselves on the back for other people’s hard work.
No matter how you cut the cake, Labor Day was started by hardcore socialists, who would make a Bernie Sanders, seem more like Ted Cruz.
Matthew McGuire was the secretary of the Central Labor Union, and he would later go on to run for Governor of NJ, and Vice President of the United States as a Democratic Socialist, who was also against things such as private land ownership and monopolies. In 1883 Matthew is quoted as saying “The railroads control the legislature, the judiciary and both the Republican and Democratic parties” He went on to declare that a third party was needed to stop the tyranny and fight for the common people, something that couldn’t be anymore true today in 2022.
The argument over who is the father of labor day has been going on now for over 100 years, some say it was Peter McGuire, and some say it was Matthew McGuire. Both McGuire’s were members of the Socialist Democratic Party, both union leaders, both were integral in some of the first parades, and both were considered by either side of the establishment to be radical communists.
Either way you cut the cake, the father of Labor Day was a hardcore socialist who have had their history hijacked to tell a patriotic tale of a day to celebrate the workers, when that has nothing to do with what the original “parades” were about.
Labor day wasn’t about sticking your toes in the sand, as it is today, it was about collectively sticking our boot up the elected officials and the heads of corporations asses to make the world for the common man a better place. The original parades were not about getting a free day off and going to the beach, they were massive walk outs to protest the poor working conditions and inequitable distribution of wealth, just as we still have today.