Labor Day celebrates American workers

American flag 4Labor Day. The official ending of summer when pools close, remaining students who haven’t done so return to school, seersucker is retired to the closet until next year, and the fall colors of pumpkins and chrysanthemums become prominent in the landscape.

But why do we have this holiday held the first Monday in September?

Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 to recognize the American laborer after years of horrid working conditions during the American Industrial Revolution in the 1800s:

  • The average American laborer worked seven days a week
  • They worked 12-hour days
  • Children as young as five worked in factories, mills, and mines
  • All laborers worked in unsafe conditions under back-breaking conditions

Discontent about such deplorable working conditions and poor pay led to uprisings, as noted by

As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Many of these events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. …

The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on … many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.

On June 26, the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. In the wake of this massive unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.

The Google doodle today honors the American workforce … PBS is having a Downton Abbey marathon … end-of-summer clearance sales are going on in retail markets.  So for those who have the day off from work … enjoy! For those who are on duty, thank you for your labors. Enjoy Labor Day 2016.

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift


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