Labor Day always lands on the first Monday in September. It was established to recognize the social and economic achievements of American workers and their contribution to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. The historical tradition holds that the key figure in the founding of Labor Day was Peter J. McGuire (1852-1906), general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, the precursor of the AFL-CIO.
McGuire was born into a poor Irish Catholic family in New York City. He quit school at 11 to work when his father went off to fight in the Union Army. After a short time, he became active in the labor movement with other young firebrands like Samuel Gompers. Soon he was the movement’s best-known speaker and chief negotiator.
When the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was established in 1886, McGuire became its general secretary and continued advocating for the American workers’ rights. Ill health forced him to resign from the AFL in 1890. He died on February 18, 1906 in Camden, New Jersey.
Peter McGuire is buried in Arlington Cemetery here in Pennsauken. There are two memorials constructed there in his memory. The older of the two marks his resting place. In the mid-1950’s a large elaborate monument was erected in his honor to recognize his contributions on behalf of the working men and women of America.
So, the Father of Labor Day has strong connections to our town. Likewise, it is always important to highlight local Catholic figures who have impacted our national history when the occasion presents itself.
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Fr. Tim Byerley