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Murray Journal

Labor Day and Murray Day – two in the same

Sep 07, 2018 02:27PM ● By Jana Klopsch

The Labor Day parade of 1910 marches past City Hall on the corner of State and Vine Streets. (Photo courtesy of Murray Museum)

By Shaun Delliskave|s.delliskave@mycityjournals.com

Labor Day, at one time, was so widely celebrated in Murray that it was simply called Murray Day. This year, Murray will continue to host Labor Day festivities by holding “A Race for all Ages.” The contest is an abbreviated triathlon using the facilities within Murray Park, with various distances for youth and adults of all ages.

To some, Labor Day is the official end of summer, but to others, like Murray City Councilman and former President of the Utah AFL-CIO Dale Cox, the day is “not just a holiday, but remembering that what makes America great is its hard-working men and women.” Cox hopes that everyone celebrating on Labor Day will take a moment to “remember working men and women, whether union or not, and all they have done for our country.”

First observed in 1882 in New York as a festive day with a parade, speeches, and picnics; Labor Day was first declared a national holiday in 1884. The American Federation of Labor union asked all wage earners to observe it, as “it should be as uncommon for a man to work on Labor Day as on the Fourth of July.”

The prominence of Labor Day in Murray is tied to its history of organized labor. Today, the Utah Education Association and Utah Public Employees Association call Murray home, while the Utah Farm Bureau Federation hosts its largest and oldest farmer’s market at Murray Park. In the early 20th century, Murray had a large working-class population that supported the smelter industry.

Workers first organized for better wages against the Cahoon sawmill in June 1899. The Salt Lake Tribune reported, “A strike in this town is something new… about twenty hands at Cahoon’s sawmill struck for five cents more an hour… which was finally granted them.” However, the owners balked at the demand for better hours. This incident stirred the local workforce, and days later employees at the Highland Boy Smelter went on strike, demanding better wages and hours, but to no avail.

The following spring at the Germania smelter, one of the largest labor strikes Utah has ever seen happened, with 600 workers walking off the job. Sherriff deputies were called to the site with drawn weapons to disperse a relatively peaceful crowd. The Salt Lake Herald described, “The town of Murray is clearly in sympathy with the strikers, and should any outbreak occur, the houses of the people will be at their disposal.” While the strike ended up failing, it did attract organized labor unions to Utah, including the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which brought noted activist Joe Hill to a fateful visit to Murray.

Murray Labor Days going forward consisted of a parade of thousands marching down State Street and picnics and rallies in Murray Park. In 1926, over 15,000 crammed the brand-new Murray Park for the dedication of a swimming pool and baseball games.

Murray farmers also organized, under the Farm Bureau, and held their gathering at Murray Park in 1929. The success of that meeting persuaded the mayor and city council to declare Labor Day as also Murray Day with hopes of attracting the farmers to continue to hold their meetings in Murray.

As crowds for Murray Day/Labor Day increased, the organizers for the Salt Lake County Fair took notice and setup permanent fair facilities within Murray Park, holding the fair concurrent with those days. By 1941, Murray’s Labor Day was part of what the Salt Lake Telegram called the “biggest celebration in history,” as several labor unions combined to promote the day.

World War II dramatically changed those holidays, as the smelters would soon shut down and the farms would recede from Murray. Councilman Cox doesn’t foresee the return of the Labor Days of old, but he still hopes that residents will reflect on the true value that is the American worker.

More details on the “A Race for all Ages” can be found online at https://www.murray.utah.gov.