When a railroad strike threatened to shut down all movement in Pullman, Illinois on May 11, 1894, Gompers suggested that it would be more beneficial if the unions make May 1 a day for workers to show their appreciation of labor. Gompers believed that the Labor Day celebration would enlist public support for workers’ causes.
The idea was received enthusiastically by federal and state officials, especially in states where most workers were organized. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a national holiday on June 28, 1894.
Gompers always maintained that he had simply suggested a holiday for workers, and that he was not the founder of Labor Day. However, there is evidence that Gompers played a significant role in convincing Cleveland to make it a national holiday.
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation making May 1st Labor Day, effective 1941. The day had been chosen by Congress because it coincided with the date of a major strike for the eight-hour workday.
Cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago host huge parades and festivals to honor workers on Labor Day every year. Another common name for Labor Day is Working People’s Day, which was first used by socialists in St. Louis, Missouri in 1884.