Sunday, September 2, 2012

Labor Day 1912: 100 Years Ago Today

Like this parade, which possibly occurred during Labor Day festivities in Hancock, Michigan, circa 1900, Labor Day at the turn of the century was about getting out and showing solidarity with your fellow workers. Membership in a union, such as the International Molders Union members above, often included uniforms so members could identify with other union brothers and sisters. Image courtesy of Michigan Technological University's Copper Country Historical Collections.

One hundred years ago today, thousands of working-class men, women, and children took to the streets of Hancock, Houghton, and Ontonagon to celebrate Labor Day.  Celebrated annually in cities and towns throughout the United States, Labor Day provided workers and their families with a day away from the workplace and the boss.  These parades provided unionists with their best opportunity to display their commitment to their unions, to unionism in general, as well as a pride in their crafts. Unionists sometimes wore identical uniforms or built floats that signaled their membership in a particular trade, or carried banners that proclaimed their union membership. 

The celebrations also provided workers with a chance to demonstrate their class solidarity by taking to the streets, holding mass parade, hearing pro-labor speeches, and enjoying picnics and games with their fellow workers.

Reporting on the September 2, 1912, Labor Day festivities, the Daily Mining Gazette wrote:

"Labor organizations of the Copper Country put forth their marching foot yesterday in observing Labor Day. In Hancock as well as in other cities throughout the country armies of men, the brawn of the great army of industrial toilers, observed it.  The significance of the movement, its benefits, its dangers, and its mission are questions peculiarly appropriate to yesterday and it required only one's presence at the grove to hear the speakers of the day explain in detail the meeting of Labor Day to learn what it represented. . . .  

Attendance Record Broken.  
The grove yesterday afternoon was the mecca for hundreds of copper country folk who congregated to help make the celebration a success.  There was music for dancing by the Quincy band, refreshments were served on the grounds, and an athletic program pulled off.  Yesterday's celebration may truly be said to have been the most successful in the history of organized labor in the Copper Country."

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