Which holiday is coming up? Is it Memorial day? Or is it Labor Day? Wait a minute who cares, its a day off, right?
I have heard this back and forth banter before, have you? A lot of people don’t take the time to reflect on holidays as they reap the rewards of our ancestors hard fought struggles. What is Labor Day? In the 1880’s there was a major movement towards workers right. The labor unions were starting to be assembled due to horrid working conditions and long hours during the height of the industrial revolution. Child labor during that era was also a major concern. Most factory workers during that timeframe were essentially slaves.
On Tues., September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day was held in New York City. Roughly 10,000 Workers held a march through the city. They marched from city hall through the streets and eventually ended up at Wendel’s Elm Park. There they gathered to listen to prominent figures rally for better working conditions. Then on May 1st, 1886 a rally was held in Chicago. Some say roughly 80,000 Americans assembled and marched, shoulder to shoulder, in and around Chicago to demand an 8 hour work day. Then on May 4, 1886, a gathering of workers was taking place at Haymarket Square, police showed up and an unidentified person threw dynamite into the group of policeman. A riot ensued with the police opening fire. Because of the smoke, the police ended up killing many of there own and many of the protestors.
In 1887 Oregon set the precedent by officially recognizing Labor Day as a holiday. Other states followed suit.
In 1893 there was a major stock market crash followed by a credit crisis, It was called the panic of 1893. That set off major wage cuts nationally This happened most notably in the railroad business. George Pullman, cut wages and didn’t cut the cost of rent for his workers housing. Roughly 100,000 Americans finally stood up and took action. They decided to strike. Soon after, more union laborers rallied and the total number of people ended up being closer to 250,000 railroad workers that went on strike. This obviously had repercussions throughout the country. With railroads significantly locked down, this had a major impact on business. On July, 2, 1894 The US Attorney General Richard Olney got an injunction to end the strike. With the injunction in hand, that gave the government the ticket it needed to vend federal troops in to Chicago to carry out the courts ruling. With that came a riot. Many were killed and a railroad yard was torched. This was called the Pullman Strike of 1894. Soon After this horrific, national, embarrassment, Grover Cleveland helped make the 1st Monday in September a national holiday. This was signed into law on June 28th, 1894.
The labor unions had a major victory. Eight hour work days soon followed suit. Child labor laws were created and overall working conditions improved.
To me, Labor day isn’t about labor unions specifically. To me, this day is a testament to what Americans can do if properly motivated. This day represents what can happen if enough Americans stand up together and point out injustices done to them by corporations and the government. If enough people stand up, the government has no choice but to sit down.
HAPPY LABOR DAY!