Irish immigration to the United States during the 19th Century is counted in the millions; with a huge concentration arriving during the Great Irish Famine of 1845 through 1852. In Ireland they were starving to death, but in the United States, along with other unskilled immigrant laborers, the Irish were working to death.
There was no shortage of work in our young country for the Irish immigrant
and their progeny. Railroad and canals along with growing skylines were being
built a rapid pace, and the mills factories and mines also ran on cheap and
easily replaced labor.
The laborers toiled long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days a week,
just to earn the most basic living. The work was performed in often dangerous
and unsanitary conditions. These conditions, along with child labor and low
wages, contributed to the organization of labor unions. Many of the early
leaders where Irish immigrants along with their adult children.
The industrialists of the day when to great length to halt the organization of
the workers. Violence and death was a common practice as was the case of the
Pullman Strike of 1894 that resulted in the deaths of 30 strikers. The strike
was crushed and the demands were not meet, but industry was definitely on
notice. Additionally, six days after the strike ended, congress, in an effort
to appease organized labor, designated Labor Day as a federal holiday, a
concept that was initiated by two men whose parents were Irish immigrants.
It is known that Peter McGuire, proposed a
workingman's holiday during a meeting of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters
and Joiners. McGuire was the organization's general secretary at the time and
he later went on to be a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
A case is also made claiming that it was
Matthew Maguire, a machinist and union leader, who proposed a Labor Day holiday
to the Central Labor Union in New Jersey. Maguire went on to be selected as the
1896 nominee for vice president for the Socialist
Labor Party of America.
Samuel Gompers, who co-founded the AFL along with Peter McGuire, credits his
partner as the father of Labor Day. It is widely speculated that Gompers did
not want the credit to go to Matthew Maguire, who was an avowed socialist,
because many in organized labor wanted to distance the movement from socialism.
Regardless of which of these two Irishmen is
the actual father of Labor Day, it is definite
that both men were involved in establishing the Labor Day holiday. The Irish Gift House hopes that you enjoy your three day weekend.