Turning Stones ~ George McKale

George McKale George McKale is a practicing archaeologist and Sonoma’s City Historian. He has excavated throughout California ranging from Native American sites thousands of years old to Gold Rush era locations. His passion and specialty in archaeology is the study of human remains.


To labor or labor not

Posted on August 29, 2013 by George McKale

First, I would like to wish all readers a wonderful Labor Day. Second, I would like to explore the history of this wondrous National holiday. Third, please don’t discuss with my children the history behind this three-day weekend.  I have lied to them.  They believe that Labor Day is dedicated to performing chores in the backyard! For them, Labor day is all about labor

As Americans, most of us work diligently throughout the year to make enough money to buy food, cloth our children, pay the dentist, support little league, and by next April 15, may have enough left over to contribute to the IRS. It is a day of recognition acknowledging the hard work and contributions workers have made to the well-being of our country.

Recounting history, telling the story of the past, always has its challenges. Who first proposed the notion that there be a Labor Day observance is up for debate. Many historians believe it was Peter J. McGuire, who contended a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” If I can get my children to do the Labor Day yard work as planned, I fully expect a tear drop or two when they witness the grandeur set before them.

Peter McGuire was the General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor. The challenger, Mr. Matthew Maguire, Secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists, proposed the holiday in 1882, developed a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

In 1885-86, municipal ordinances were developed and implemented throughout the eastern states. New York first introduced a bill, however, Oregon has the honor of passing the first bill recognizing the American worker on February 21, 1887. That same year, four more states would jump on the band wagon, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Colorado. Twenty-three states adopted Labor Day holidays by 1894.  Congress passed on act on June 28, 1894, making the first Monday in September a National holiday.

During this time period, there were also efforts to regulate or eliminate child labor. In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee, was the primary force behind this movement. Eventually, many jobs required more education and most states responded by increasing the length of the school year. In 1949, Congress amended child labor laws to include a variety of sectors, including commercial agriculture, communications, public utilities and transportation.

In 1886, Samuel Gompers, cofounded and became the first president of the American Federation of Labor. Regarding Labor Day, Gompers states “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power…Labor day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

With regards to child labor, I envision my own children laboring one hour each day while on holiday, cleaning up around the yard, organizing their rooms and and having fun while they do it. To everyone else, please have a safe and relaxing Labor Day.