Monday, September 02, 2019

The 125th Labor Day

Today is the 125th official national Labor Day. It was created as a federal holiday by Congress in 1894, though it had been celebrated by organized labor unions since at least 1882 and was recognized as a holiday by the state of Oregon in 1887 (those West Coast lib'ruls!).

It was created to celebrate the working men and women -- as opposed to The Bosses and the 1% -- who built the nation and kept it running. Its creation was testimony to the growing strength in the late 19th century of the union movement, in which workers banded together to demand better working conditions and living wages. Early Labor Day celebrations always featured large parades of union members demonstrating their allegiances and their solidarity.

Although many individual states followed the lead of Oregon after 1887 and declared their own state holidays to honor workers, the last-straw impetus for the federal holiday followed closely on the heels of the May 11, 1894, Pullman railway sleeping car strike outside Chicago. Employees of mastermind George Pullman went on strike over wages and were joined in a show of solidarity by the American Railway Union — 150,000 strong and led by famous socialist Eugene Debs. The strikers refused to operate Pullman train cars, snarled mail delivery, and prompted President Grover Cleveland to send in federal troops to break up the strike. Rioting and arson broke out, and it evolved into what’s now considered one of the bloodiest episodes in American labor history.

Labor Day as a federal holiday passed Congress within weeks, a kind of sop thrown at workers following the use of troops to put them down.

No comments: