Photo Courtesy of Ms. Wagner titled "Sunset of the Ships"
Labor Day my friends is meant to celebrate you and I, the backbone of this land. If you are a worker, this is your day. It is meant to celebrate our economic and social achievements for the year. Right, lots of us really do not have much to celebrate, hell, many people are working today. Not so different from Black Thanksgiving, or Christmas is it? But here is the thing, this federal holiday didn't always exist you see, and it is meant to celebrate the worker in his or her full glory. It was meant to celebrate the men and women who bust their chops day in and day out working for "da man", and moving forward in this world. Its not like that now as many people toil away barely making enough to eat on, but that was the holidays intended purpose.
So, time to get in our way back machine, which has recently been expanded. Our next stop is somewhere around September 5, 1882, and well we are going to watch the first Labor Day celebration. Yeah, if you are thinking that its not Monday, you would be correct. It is Tuesday, and only a handful of people are celebrating. Its a Union day, more or less, but mostly a day off for union workers in New York City. If we fast forward a year, we will see that it is being celebrated on Wednesday. Once again, its only Union workers in New York City celebrating, well demonstrating and having a nice little picnic afterwards, same as the year before. By 1884 the first Monday of September was set as the day for this laborer's day off.
Fast forward to 1885, we see that some local cities and towns recognize "Labor Day" as a holiday and multiple Unions are taking part. But 1894 thirty states or so had some kind of law recognizing "Labor Day" as a state holiday, where mostly Union workers could have an addition day off, when compared to negotiated days of leave. But now you ask, how did this become a federal holiday?
Well, we have unions to thank for this as well. Well, lets start giving credit where it is due. This fellow by the name of George Pullman (owner of Pullman Palace Car Company) had been hit hard by an economic downturn, so he did what any business owner would do, he cut hours, wages, and laid people off. Except these people who had hours, and wages cut, or were laid off did not take too kindly to that (as they were like miners who had company housing and stores where prices did not drop), so their union stepped in and started boycotting any train that pulled a Pullman car. In response to this, scabs were hired, and things went batshit crazy, leading to the death of over thirty workers, and injuries to another sixty depending on the source. All told damage was around eighty million dollars, and President Cleveland and both houses of congress attempting to restore some peace and save some face pretty much decided to create a national holiday for the workers, not the International Workers Day as some people used that day to celebrate the "Haymarket Affair" but the first Monday of September to distance itself from the rioting that took place after the bombing of a labor demonstration.
So, why after 130 years should we still celebrate this holiday? Simple really. Those men who fought, struggled, and died to ensure that you and I did not have to sell our souls to the company store, they deserve to be celebrated. I have no love of unions, I feel that if you want to join a union, you should be allowed to, but far too many unions are just as corrupt as the companies are today. But, I am not an expert on unions, I would have unionized a former employer if I could have gotten some help and support. So, my feelings are conflicted, but many of these former Union men and later women fought for your rights, and they should be celebrated.
There are other things to be celebrated on this day as well. Celebrate the fact that you or your significant other has a job to gripe about, when so many do not. It is a day to reflect as well, on those who gave everything to ensure a far days pay, something we took for granted, for the right to unionize, to ensure that children in the United States do not have to work in sweat shops, that there are regulations in place to ensure you are mostly safe while you are working. We need to bring that mentality back to this nation, one that says I will work, but in return I want a fair days wage, I want healthcare, I want a better life for my family and I. And while most discussions of Labor Day (or Labour Day in other countries) tend to focus on the nice side of things, store owners focus on sales, We The People of these United States need to focus on ensuring that our rights, and our lives are protected in this climate of pro-business.
So, while most of us run around celebrating this holiday, I see it as a time to reflect, and those who celebrate and those who reflect are equally right.