Labor Day

This legal holiday is celebrated in the United States on the first Monday of every September. The first Labor Day celebration dates back to a parade in New York on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. More than half the states were celebrating Labor Day by 1893, but it wasn't made a national holiday until June 28, 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.



Historical encyclopedia of American labor by edited by Robert Weir and James P. Hanlan

Labor conflict in the United States: an encyclopedia by edited by Ronald L. Filippelli — editorial assistant, Carol Reilly

US Labor History

Bread--and roses: the struggle of American labor, 1865- 1915 by Milton Meltzer — illustrated with contemporary prints & photographs — Using diaries, newspaper reports and other source material, the author shows the industrialization of America and the workers' struggle for higher working standards.

Child labor: an American history by Hugh D. Hindman — This book considers the issue of child labor as a social and economic problem in America from an historical perspective — as it was found in major American industries and occupations, including coal mines, cotton textile mills and sweatshops, in the early 1900s.

Death in the Haymarket: a story of Chicago, the first labor movement, and the bombing that divided guilded age America by James Green — On May 4, 1886, a bomb exploded at a Chicago labor rally, wounding dozens of policemen, seven of whom eventually died. Coming in the midst of the largest national strike Americans had ever seen, the bombing created mass hysteria and led to a sensational trial. This history recounts the rise of the first great labor movement , and brings to life the epic 20-year battle for the eight-hour workday.

From the folks who brought you the weekend: a short, illustrated history of labor in the United States by Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty; illustrations by Joe Sacco — This book examines labor in America beginning with the arrival of Columbus in 1492 and ending with the election of George Walker Bush.

Killing for coal: America's deadliest labor war by Thomas G. Andrews — An original perspective on the Ludlow Massacre and the Great Coalfield War, beginning in 1914 in Ludlow, Colorado when striking members of the United Mine Workers clashed with mine guard employed by the Rockefeller family and the state militia.

Labor's story in the United States by Philip Yale Nicholson — A fascinating look at the landscape of labor from the earliest colonial times to the present. Nicholson considers American labor history from the perspective of institutions and people: the rise of unions; the struggles over slavery, wages and child labor; and public and private responses to union organizing.

The man who never died: the life, times, and legacy of Joe Hill, American labor icon by William M. Adler — The definitive biography of Joe Hill, legendary American songwriter and labor hero.

The most dangerous man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the fate of American labor by Nelson Lichtenstein — This biography of the man — whom auto executive, and later GOP politician, George Romney called "the most dangerous man in Detroit" — is also a history of the United Auto Workers union, which Walter Reuther helped build and led for two decades, as well as a history of the American labor movement.

Mother Jones: the most dangerous woman in America by Elliott J. Gorn — A thorough study of the life of an unconventional American woman, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, one of the most influential labor organizers in American history.

Putting the world together: my father Walter Reuther: the liberal warrior by Elisabeth Reuther Dickmeyer — A biography of the UAW leader by his daughter.

She was one of us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American worker by Brigid O'Farrell — The story of Eleanor Roosevelt's relationship with the American labor movement during the first half of the twentieth century, her activities on behalf of workers, her beliefs and values, and work with friends such as Rose Schneiderman of the Women's Trade Union League and the garment unions and United Automobile Workers president Walter Reuther.

State of the Union: a century of American labor by Nelson Lichtenstein — From the steel foundry to the burger-grill, from Woodrow Wilson to John Sweeney, from Homestead to Pittston, the author weaves together a compelling matrix of ideas, stories, strikes, laws and people in a streamlined narrative of work and labor in the 20th century.

There is power in a union: the epic story of labor in America by Philip Dray — From an award-winning historian, a stirring and timely narrative history of American labor from the dawn of the industrial age to the present day. From the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, the first real factories in America, to the triumph of unions in the twentieth century and their waning influence today, the contest between labor and capital for their share of American bounty has shaped our national experience.

Triangle: the fire that changed America by David Von Drehle — On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York's Greenwich Village. Within minutes it spread to consume the building's upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren't tall enough. People on the street watched in horror as desperate workers jumped to their deaths. The final toll was 146 people — 123 of them women — and was the worst workplace disaster in New York City history.

Labor in Michigan

Whose Detroit?: politics, labor, and race in a modern American city by Heather Ann Thompson — The author traces Detroit's fragmented civic, labor and racial politics from the 1930s through the 1980s.

Working Detroit: the making of a union town by Steve Babson — A pictorial history of the growth of industry and the labor movement in Detroit.



The corporation [videodisc] by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, Joel Bakan — This documentary examines the nature, evolution, impact and possible futures of the modern business corporation.

Rising from the rails [videodisc]: the story of the Pullman Porter by Brad Osborne — Chronicles the legacy of the Pullman Porters, generations of African American men who served as caretakers to wealthy white passengers on luxury trains that traversed the nation during the golden age of rail. Based on the book.

Roger & me [videodisc] by Warner Bros. presents a Dog Eat Dog Films production; a film by Michael Moore — Michael Moore's caustically humorous look at the aftermath of the General Motors plant closing in Flint.

Sit down and fight [videodisc]: Walter Reuther and the rise of the auto workers union by a Charolotte Zwerin Films, Inc. production for American Experience — The story of Walter Reuther, a man whose leadership and vision of worker's rights changed the way America worked.

Triangle fire [videodisc] — The story of what happened during the fire in March of 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company where 146 people died, and discussed the impact that it hand on labor and industry standards.

Feature Films

Bound for glory [videodisc] by United Artists — In 1936, Woody Guthrie leaves Texas and heads to California looking for work. He meets hobos, migrant workers and people down on their luck, and begins his career as a folk singer. Starring David Carradine, Ronny Cox and Melinda Dillon. Based on the book.

The grapes of wrath [videodisc] by Twentieth Century-Fox — The story of the Joad family and their migration to California from their dust-bowl farm in Oklahoma during the Depression. Based on the Novel by John Steinbeck. Starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.

Matewan [videodisc] by presented by Cinecom Entertainment Group and Film Gallery in association with Goldcrest — Set in Matewan, West Virginia, this movie portrays the battle between the local coal miners and the powerful coal mining company which tries to control their lives.

Modern times [videodisc] by Warner Home Video — This is not a film about the labor movement, but it is Chaplin's deft satire on the dehumanizing effects of industrialization.

Norma Rae [videodisc] by Twentieth Century-Fox — Sally Field won her first Oscar for her portrayal of Norma Rae, a minimum wage worker in a cotton mill leading a shutdown to bring in the union and better working conditions.

North country [videodisc] by Warner Bros.; Industry Entertainment; Participant Productions; Nick Wechsler Productions — A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the U.S. — Jenson v. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won a landmark 1984 lawsuit. Starring Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson.

The pajama game [videodisc] by Warner Bros. Pictures presents a George Abbott, Stanley Donen production; a Warner Bros.-First National picture — Do all these movies seem a bit too grimly realistic? Let Doris Day and John Raitt lead your through the music and dance-filled union disputes at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory.

Silkwood [videodisc] by ABC Motion Pictures — Karen Silkwood becomes contaminated with plutonium at her job, voices her protest at the indifference and denial of her company, and becomes a threat to the entire nuclear industry and the government agencies that monitor it. Based on a true story. Starring Meryl Streep.

10,000 black men named George [videodisc] by Paramount Pictures — The true story of the formation of the first black-controlled union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Asa Philip Randolph, a black journalist, established a voice for the forgotten workers of the Pullman Rail Company, who were all black porters and were simply named "George," after George Pullman, who was the first person to employ emancipated slaves. Starring Andre Braugher and Charles S. Dutton.



  • Child Labor in America 1908-1912 — A photographic history of child labor in the United States (From The History Place)
  • The Flint Sit-Down Strike Audio Gallery — An interactive audio history of the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37. Described as a classic case of David vs. Goliath, the strike pit the stockholders of General Motors — then the richest industrial corporation in the world — against the largely poor, uneducated and immigrant workers who struck for better working conditions and higher pay
  • The History of Labor Day — The history of the holiday (From the U.S. Department of Labor)
  • The Samuel Gompers Papers — A site dedicated to Samuel Gompers, the nation's leading trade unionist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and president of the American Federation of Labor from 1886 until his death in 1924
  • The Triangle Factory Fire — This Web exhibit presents original documents and secondary sources on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, held by the Cornell University Library. It includes original documents, oral histories and photographs. Visitors to this site can hear and read first-hand accounts by survivors and others that will provide a glimpse into the lives of workers and a sense of the horrors of the factory fire that claimed the lives of 146 young workers. Also included is a selected bibliography of sources on sweatshops and the Triangle Fire
  • The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire — A short analysis of the historical consequences of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which in 1911 claimed 146 lives, making it the worst workplace disaster in New York history
  • United Farm Workers — The history of the United Farm Workers which was formed in 1966

Labor Day Events in Michigan

Here are just a few of the many events happening on Labor Day Weekend:

  • Arts, Beats and Eats — An Art Fair, musical entertainment, and lots of food from local restaurants in Pontiac
  • Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk — Every Labor Day thousands of people walk across the Mighty Mac. Check out this webpage for more info and consider joining them on the next trek

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