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The Role of Labor

The labor movement in the United States gained momentum in the late 19th century and unions began holding parades to show their strength and to highlight poor working conditions. The first Labor Day was planned by the Central Labor Union and held in New York in 1882. However, most workers were not given the day off, and were warned by their employers not to participate in the event. The day’s march began with only a few hundred people; however by the end approximately 20,000 participants had joined the march. Labor Day came to be celebrated in more cities each successive year.

Labor Day has been celebrated nationally on the first Monday in September since its establishment as a federal holiday in June of 1894, when Congress passed and President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law. By this time, 31 states had already passed state legislation recognizing Labor Day.

Today, Labor Day is a day to celebrate and honor the contributions of the American worker. The contributions to civil and social rights and the significant role of the American laborer to the rise of the United States are important themes highlighted in social studies classrooms across the country throughout the school year.

This website pulls together a variety of resources classroom teachers may might helpful for instruction of the history of the labor movement.

To learn more about why it is important to teach labor history, check out this article from the winter 2008/09 issue of American Educator: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/winter0809/green.pdf