A history lesson: Why Yoopers celebrate Labor Day

Since the early 1900s unions fought for the rights of hard working Yoopers who built our economy. On Labor Day, we honor those who’ve toiled, and some who have died, as a result of exploitive machines that undermine their safety.

When we stand up for people before profits, our economy is better because our middle class is protected and thrives. I’m honored to be endorsed by the UPRLF, representing over 20 U.P. unions. I intend to continue the fight. With me, working families have an ally and an advocate long into the future. The U.P. is Union Strong.

No one knows hard work like a ‪Yooper‬, which is why today’s holiday is especially important in the Upper Peninsula. We have a rich history of miners, lumberers, and other hard labored workers that make Labor Day weekend much more than just a three day weekend.

Here’s some historical context of why the Upper Peninsula c̶e̶l̶e̶b̶r̶a̶t̶e̶s̶ honors ‪Labor Day‬…

On Christmas Eve 1913, the worst mass killing in 20th century Michigan history took place as 73 people, mostly the children of striking miners, were killed when bosses’ thugs yelled “Fire!” at a crowded union Christmas party, then held the exit doors shut so panicking children and their parents on the stairs were crushed by others who tried to flee.

The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (“C&H”) was the single largest copper mining company in the copper country in the Keweenaw Peninsula of northwest Michigan. One of the longest strikes in the copper country took place in 1913.

At the time, there were perhaps 15,000 men working in the mines and the WFM claimed 9,000 of them as members. The membership voted in favor of demanding union recognition from management, and asking “for a conference with the employers to adjust wages, hours, and working conditions in the copper district of Michigan”. The membership also voted to “declare a strike” if management refused to “grant a conference or concessions”.

After the vote was held, the WFM sent letters to the mines demanding the conference; the mine managers refused the request and the strike was called on July 23, 1913. The strike would not end until April 1914; the miners and the mines were still at a standoff at Christmas, 1913, in a strike that was then five months old.

Seventy innocent Upper Peninsula children died because of opposition to organized labor. Today, these same philosophical disagreements over wages and workers’ rights / safety are still eroding the backbone of our economies. We see it locally with nurse staffing levels, a move toward privatization of food service workers in prisons, and the repealing of prevailing wages. The consequences today are less deadly, but the fight endures.

“Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country,” said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. “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, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

It was this week in 1895 that the meaning of Labor Day engraved itself into U.P. culture with a tragedy of huge historical significance. Paying tribute to Upper Peninsula miners who impacted the socioeconomic environment of the U.P., and those who toiled generations before us, is why Yoopers hold today’s holiday in such high regard.

Smoke and fumes overflowed into shaft four and five, hampering desperate efforts to evacuate some 200 miners that work underground. Most of the casualties were due to smoke and gas inhalation including several boys on the crew.

The final death toll climbed to thirty, the most lives lost in a signal mining accident during the copper boom.


On Sept. 7 in 1895, a fire was quietly sparked in the Osceola Mine Number 3 just south of Calumet. It wasn’t too unusual in those days for fires to ignite in a mine shaft and most were quickly put out but there in the Osceola the design of the shaft and the abundance of timbers became a deadly combination as the fire quickly spread.

In the Copper Country

In 1913, Mother Mary Harris Jones — a labor hell raiser and internationally prolific agitator — came to the aid of the Western Federation of Miners in Michigan’s Copper Country, this was known as the Copper Country Strike of 1913–1914.

MARQUETTE, Mich. — After candidate screening with the Marquette-Alger Community Labor Council a motion was made recommending the endorsement of Andrew Lorinser by the UP Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. This motion was in turn passed unanimously by the Committee on Political Education, securing Lorinser’s endorsement.

“It is my hope that our endorsement will play a role in securing victory come August and November,” says UPRLF Field Coordinator, Alex Gustafson. “Working families need allies in city government and we believe strongly that as a friend of labor, Andrew will be one.”

Beyond several hundred personal endorsements, Lorinser did not seek out many organizational endorsements for his primary candidacy in the 2019 race for Marquette City Commission. One organization important to him was the Upper Peninsula Regional Labor Federation (UPRLF).

The UPRLF aims to improve the lives of working families – to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our region. It is an organization of U.P. labor unions representing AFL-CIO affiliates with over 10,000 union members.  Affiliates include AFGE, AFSCME, AFT, APWU, BAC, CWA, IAFF, IAMAW, IBEW, IBT, IRON, IUOE, IUPAT, LIUNA, UBC, MNA, SMWIA, TEAMSTERS. UA, UAW, UBC, and USW.

The organization is one of nearly 500 state and local labor councils of the AFL-CIO and are the heart of the labor movement. UPRFL are democratically elected bodies dedicated to represent the interests of working people at the state and local level.

UPRLF mobilizes members and community partners to advocate for social and economic justice and strive daily to vanquish oppression and make our communities better for all people—regardless of race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin.

“These are values I share, which I hope to translate to policies and representation on City Commission,” says Lorinser. “From the beginning of my campaign I’ve set forth initiatives to celebrate and advocate for cohesive balance between city-development and respect for the rights of the hard working groups that build it, those who care for its people, and the environment upon which it’s sustained. UPRFL and I share this goal.”

“I want to advocate for the rights of workers, and make it easier for local business and city developers to employ an eager and skilled labor force.”

A major policy Lorinser hopes to bring forth to City Commission is the implementation of Community Benefits Agreements, or a Community Benefits Ordinance for all major development projects.

“We need to ensure projects are benefiting the community, employing a local labor force, and are built in more agreeable locations,” says Lorinser. “We don’t have a CBA right now, so the needs of residents are not being met. If so honored to be elected, I’ll get CBAs to a vote.”

“I want to extend my gratitude to the organization for their endorsement and reiterate my commitment to issues that affect working families who build and sustain our wonderful micropolis. With me, workers have an ally.”

History of Labor Day

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day.

The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit.

By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday – a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day.

Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom.