Sep 4, 2011

Labor Day

Labor Day is a United States federal holiday which falls on the first Monday in September every year.

So what is Labor Day all about anyway? Labor Day is a celebration of the contributions and achievements of the American worker. It was created in the late 1800's at the height of the Industrial Revolution. During the time of growing industry in America there were no set rules governing the amount of hours a worker was required to work each week. Most industrial workers were forced to work 12 hour days, seven days a week just to eek out a meager living for their families. Astonishingly, children as young as 5 or 6 were called on to work alongside their adult counterparts at a fraction of the adult's pay. Working conditions for laborers were very often unsafe. In many cases, workers toiled in areas with an inadequate source of fresh air and were given no breaks throughout the day.

Labor unions, which were growing stronger during this time, began to protest these unsafe and unfair conditions. They began organizing strikes and rallies to compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay. On September 5th, 1882, 10,000 workers in New York City organized a march from City Hall to Union Square, sacrificing a day of pay, which began a longtime tradition as the first Labor Day parade.

Many protest rallies and strikes were not so peaceful. In 1886, the infamous Haymarket Riot occurred. During a demonstration on Tuesday, May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago, an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police after which gunfire ensued. By the end of the riot eight police officers lay dead as well as an unknown number of civilians.

During this time of unrest, the idea of a holiday for the working man arose and became popular. Many states across the country passed into legislature the first Monday of September as a "workingmen's holiday", albeit, if workers chose to take time off, they were still unpaid.

On May 11, 1894, railway workers from the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in protest of recent wage cuts. This is known as The Pullman Strike. On June 26, the strike resulted in bringing railway traffic west of Chicago to a halt. Because the railway shut down interfered with delivery of the U.S. mail, the federal Government dispatched 12,000 U.S. Army troops to break up the strike. During the confrontation, 13 strikers were killed and 57 others were injured.

To quell further unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress quickly passed an act making Labor day a paid, legal holiday.

Interestingly, in 1909, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention, the Sunday preceding Labor day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Today, Labor Day is enjoyed more as an end of summer, last fling day. I think it is important and beneficial for us to look back at the way things used to be and the sacrifices that were made in order to bring about crucial changes for the way of life in America.

Sources: History  Wikipedia   Wikipedia

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