Indianapolis Labor Day Parade

by Aaron Charles

Indianapolis' Labor Day Parade gives area workers a chance to play a little. "The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis" notes the annual parade's long history goes as far back as 1886. Now in the 21st century, this Indianapolis parade continues to champion worker rights with a festive spirit and local slant.


The push for worker rights via the formation of labor unions naturally turned into celebration after workers formed and joined such unions and gained more rights. In late 19th-century Indianapolis, the city was an epicenter for coal miners who helped form the influential National Progressive Union. By 1886, a Labor Day tradition of parading and giving speeches helped spur on the labor movement in Indianapolis. At that time, though, women and African American workers still had fewer rights than others.

Modern Meaning

Indianapolis' modern-day parade continues the traditional celebration within a cultural climate in which an increasing number of workers enjoy rights and protections. Labor organizations, union members, elected officials, community supporters, musicians and parade floats amble and ride through downtown Indianapolis in what a past issue of "Indianapolis Monthly" called "a break from the daily grind." The parade occasionally holds deeper significance. In 2010, for example, the Central Indiana Labor Council, which organizes the parade, dedicated its activities to late council president Lettie Oliver.


Even those who aren't part of a local union can attend the parade. Usually there's free food and live music for everyone to enjoy. One union, the Communication Workers of America Local 4900, has in the past hosted a kids' fair, offering face painting, live music and free T-shirts, in conjunction with the parade, all in support of local families aided by organized labor.


Regardless of who attends, everyone driving in the area is affected by traffic rerouting for the parade. Traditionally, the parade begins downtown at North Street and goes down Pennsylvania Street, turns onto Ohio Street toward Meridian Street, then turns to head back up Meridian Street. Bus riders should check with the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation ( to take note of any changes in bus routes, which could last for most of the day.