When I went into the bank yesterday the gals seemed a tad extra cheerful and there was excited chatter about plans for the three-day weekend. It is, after all, their holiday, a day of recognition and appreciation for the American work force. That got me to thinking about the origins of Labor Day, a movement that started in the hubbub of my favorite era.
By general definition, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. But Labor Day didn’t start out as a national holiday.
The first state in our union to recognize this holiday was New York, on September 5 1882. The Central Labor Union organized a parade and picnics and urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. A movement began through the labor unions to secure state legislation for the federal holiday.
By 1894 twenty-three of the fifty states recognized Labor Day as a state holiday, but it would take a nationwide labor dispute and the tragic loss of lives to secure a national holiday. Labor unions took on the dastardly railroad in what became known as the Pullman Strike. The conflict began in the town of Pullman, Illinois on May 11 when approximately 3,000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company began a strike in response to recent reductions in wages, bringing traffic west of Chicago to a halt. The American Railway Union, the nation’s first industry-wide union, became embroiled in what The New York Times described as “a struggle between the greatest and most important labor organization and the entire railroad capital” that involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states at its peak. The strike crippled the transportation system in major cities and disrupted federal mail delivery. In July President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops to Chicago to end the strike. Violence ensued, causing a number of deaths. With speculation brewing about the president’s constitutional authority to implement such force, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.
A hard-earned holiday I hope all our readers will be able to enjoy with some fun and relaxation.