The American Labor Museum in Haledon, New Jersey today stands on a quiet street, but in 1913, this historic house was the site of large rallies that excited and inspired workers during an important moment of America’s labor history. On Saturday, the museum paid homage to its roots with its 27th annual Labor Day parade.
The parade included representatives from eleven unions, emergency responders, elected officials, and two bands. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 were the this year’s headline honorees. Museum director Angelica Santomauro said that the parade was “a true celebration of working people and immigrants. We have to remember, [union members’] roots are all from other countries. They are standing on the shoulders of those forgotten heroes.”
The American Labor Museum tells the story of the 1913 silk mill strike in Paterson. Mill workers chose to strike in January 1913, after owners tried to implement a policy that would require weavers to operate four looms at a time instead of two. After police locked strikers out of meeting spaces in Paterson, Haledon’s socialist Mayor William Brueckmann welcomed them to meet in the suburb. Mill worker Pietro Botto offered his home, now the site of the American Labor Museum, as a meeting place. Here, crowds as large as 20,000 people gathered to hear Industrial Workers of the World organizers deliver speeches from the house’s second floor balcony.
For the past twenty-six years, the museum’s Labor Day parade marched to Paterson to recognize this important connection between the two sites. However, due to budget constraints, this year’s parade stayed within Haledon. Despite is shortened route, museum staff still see the parade as an important event for the community. Evelyn Hershey, the museum’s educational director, believes that the parade is an important way to remind community members of their history and their rights as workers today.
President Grover Cleveland signed a law recognizing Labor Day as a federal holiday in 1894. While the idea of Labor Day may have originated with working-class people in New York, some historians argue that the federal holiday may have been created to weaken May Day celebrations, which were more radical and recognized international connections between workers, during a time of intense labor strife.