It’s a tradition all across the country — family and friends gather to watch the Labor Day parade. The parade in the Borough of South Plainfield is one of the largest festivities in the state.
“I lived here 45 years and haven’t missed any of them,” said attendee Cindi Canfield.
But ask yourself this question: what do you think of when you think of Labor Day?
Right about now, you may be thinking it’s the last day of summer, maybe you’re thinking of the unspoken fashion rule that says you’re no longer allowed to wear white clothing or maybe you have memories of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon which started in the 60s.
“When I think of Labor Day, I think of barbecues and everything, parties and the parade. So that’s usually what I think about. And I think it’s an American holiday,” said parade attendee Christopher Almeider.
But how did we get this American holiday?
NJTV News spoke with the executive director of the American Labor Museum, Angelica Santomauro, to understand where it all started. It turns out, it dates back to 1882.
“There was a movement to organize workers to celebrate the work that they do in this county. Two gentlemen, one by the name of Matthew Maguire, the other one, Peter McGuire, worked towards organizing workers to have a Labor Day parade celebrating the contributions of working people,” said Santomauro.
There is debate to this day about which of the two actually had the idea.
“Matthew Maguire was an alderman in Paterson, New Jersey and Peter McGuire was a carpenter. And there is an ongoing dispute that it’s Peter Maguire who started it, but of course we here in Passaic County like to give credit to Matthew as well,” said Santomauro.
But, whether you’re on team Matthew or Peter, what’s important is that in 1882 in New York City, 10,000 people came together to march, as thousands more gathered to cheer them on and to celebrate all they had done for the country.
“Because they were skilled workers, they also knew that it was important to keep this tradition going, so they contacted Legislatures all over the country to make one day out of the year a special day to celebrate workers,” said Santomauro. “By 1894, President Grover Cleveland passed a law declaring the first Monday in September to be the worker’s holiday. Labor Day, a national holiday, was declared.”
“The march today is representing all of the forefathers for labor, some gave their lives. A lot of families went through hardships and we wouldn’t have what we have today if we didn’t start out back then fighting for labor, minimum wage, 40 hour work week,” said Steve Towle, who watched the South Plainfield Labor Day parade.
All of these rights are not lost on the crowds who marched and watched.
“My husband, he’s a very hard worker and this is the one day where he actually has off from work and he enjoys and we embrace it. We try to explain to my daughter that Americans, we work hard and this is what we do — we come together, we enjoy it,” said parade reveler Jennifer Gaster.
When you see the picture of the first labor day parade 135 years ago, know that Matthew and Peter can both be proud it lives on until this day — a day for the workers who work hard.