Happy Labor Day Local 259

Brian Schneck's picture
Aug 31, 2012

We know as Labor Day and its weekend have been approaching, you, your family and friends have been looking forward to enjoying sometime away at the beach or going camping. May be this is the last time you will be getting in a round of golf or doing an all-day fishing trip this year. Labor Day and its weekend have been brought to you by the labor movement and you deserve it so enjoy it! But, before we go enjoy ourselves, we should learn to appreciate why we have this benefit known as Labor Day.

 

Did you that until Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, laborers who chose to participate in parades had to forfeit a day's wages. Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history's most dismal chapters. In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts' wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks. 

 

As manufacturing increasingly surpassed 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 Chicagopolicemen and workers were killed. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. The idea of a "workingmen's holiday," celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and 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.  

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