I found myself reflecting on the causal factors of the Labor Day holiday and decided to share some deeper roots of history.
The first U.S. Labor Day celebration took place in New York City in 1882 and was proposed by a labor union leader.
At least that’s what you will briefly read in any summary of the holiday. But I would like to remind people of the events leading up to this day, because the Union is also responsible for rallying the eight-hour-day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest, which was an idea coined as early as 1817 by Robert Owen, an English socialist.
It had been implemented in Australia on April 21, 1856, when stonemasons in Melbourne, Australia walked off the job in protest over their employers’ refusal to accept their demands for reduced working hours.
During the early 1800s, child labor was common. The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours, and the work week was typically six days a week. And only because God established 52 days of rest for us every year, the Sabbath, were we allowed a day of rest.
A working-class leader, Ira Stewart, led a popular movement that established eight-hour leagues across the United States by 1866.
An eight-hour-day law was enacted in the state of Illinois by governor Richard Oglesby in March 1867 and took effect the following May 1. Employers refused to abide by the law and in one week effectively broke the movement by the use of force from police, militia, and private agents. It was referred to as the Haymarket Affair, resulting in deaths, a trial, and hangings. The Haymarket Affair is of enormous historical significance. It was the bloody culmination of the eight-hour-day movement. And it was the direct origin of May 1 (May Day) as the international holiday of the working class — celebrated virtually everywhere but in the land of its inspiration, the U.S.
What actually led to our Labor Day Holiday was the Pullman Strike. It took place between Chicago and Gary, Indiana in Pullman, Illinois — the home of the Pullman Palace Car Company, which built cars for the railroad.
Some 3,000 workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on a wildcat strike after the company drastically decreased the employee’s wages because of diminished sales caused by the Economic Crisis of 1893.
President Grover Cleveland sent in troops to break up the strike. It was violent. Thirteen strikers were killed and 57 wounded with massive property damage. Of course, this controversial move is still debated as to its constitutionality, but nevertheless the strike was broken up.
This strike caused a shut down of practically all railroad transportation west of Chicago. In three days, 40,000 railroad workers walked off the job as a sign of solidarity. It crippled America.
Labor Day, an effort encouraged by President Grover Cleveland to reconcile with the labor movement and prevent further violence, was made a national holiday in 1894, just days after the horrific Pullman Strike.
One can only imagine the horror, pain, and suffering of this event.
Labor Day used to be a time for giving speeches on labor-related topics. This is only occasionally done today. The widows never wanted people to forget and rallied as such. Unluckily, they are dead now also. Will people forget how strong they can be in fighting for their freedom?
How have things changed when in the present day we have lobbyists for corporate America buying political favors? The two dominant parties in the U.S., the Republicans and the Democrats, both rake in huge sums from wealthy special interests in exchange for allowing their interests to shape laws to their advantage and gain access at every level of government. Most of the time, this favoritism takes place behind the scenes.
There is still a need for the working citizen to have a voice in work-related topics even today. Some states do not have labor unions. They are called “right to work states,” which has it’s good and bad traits. (Mostly not so good on the pay scale for the worker.)
A couple years back, Wal-Mart cut it’s employees’ yearly raises in half, reduced the pay for their graveyard shift workers in order to increase the wages for beginning workers, and had them sign paperwork agreeing to these terms … or else. How is that fair? Yet who wants to confront a billion-dollar industry? Or even can, for that matter, when we have politicians who let our government be for sale?
Isn’t it time that politicians in general are asked for some kind of accountability as to the welfare of the working class citizen? Or even on how they spend our tax paying money? How is it that anytime the topic of a politician’s income being unrealistically high is brought up, it is ignored?
What about the scare about six years back of 2.3 trillion dollars supposedly being missing from the Pentagon? It was said to be a bad choice of verbiage, that it wasn’t missing, that it really was more of the way it was being accounted for, so it was said that we needed more money to improve the accounting systems. So has the accounting system been brought up to date so that spending can be tracked? Have the 2.3 trillion dollars ever been accounted for?
Politicians often win favor by buying into another program that will help citizens in some way without any accountability as to where the money for the program will come from. Oh, never mind, it makes people happy for now. Later, they may tax the worker more or take away some benefits with the explanation of helping the deficit.
Deuteronomy 24:14 reads, “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant.”
The only answer I can suggest on this ongoing situation is to pray about it and then be open to listening to opposing views and find places where peaceful dialogues can occur. That’s where ideas and grassroots organizations come from. In the meantime, I am extremely grateful to those who sacrificed their lives for our Labor Day.