Despite what I heard yesterday on the radio, Labor Day isn’t the official end of summer (unofficial maybe) nor is a get drunk and blow things up day. According to Wikipedia, “Labor Day in the United States is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country.” What are we honoring? The men and women who fought to help put in place the perceived 40 hour work week, child labor laws, overtime pay, workplace safety laws. Things we tend to take for granted. What we tend to forget is that this wasn’t easy, today when you’re popping open your drink with your burger on your lap remember the following:
The Haymarket Affair
“The Haymarket Affair (also known as the Haymarket Massacre or Haymarket Riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.”
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (which came after the federal declaration for Labor Day)
“On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burned, killing 145 workers. It is remembered as one of the most infamous incidents in American industrial history, as the deaths were largely preventable–most of the victims died as a result of neglected safety features and locked doors within the factory building. The tragedy brought widespread attention to the dangerous sweatshop conditions of factories, and led to the development of a series of laws and regulations that better protected the safety of workers.”
“More than 14,000 heavily armed federal troops, marshals and policemen called to duty in 27 states ranging from New York to California – 34 people shot dead, dozens seriously wounded, hundreds jailed…$80 million worth of property destroyed…the country’s vital rail system badly crippled …
It was the great Pullman strike of 1894, a virtual insurrection of working people against the corporate forces who dictated their conditions of employment, subjecting them without recourse to lives of poverty or near-poverty.
It took nearly three weeks and the might of the U.S. government itself to defeat them. But when it finally came, the defeat was among the most severe ever dealt the American labor movement.
The strike nevertheless was one of the most important of the events that ultimately led to widespread unionization and the granting of fundamental rights and protections to all U.S. workers, unionized or not.”
“The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914. About two dozen people, including miners’ wives and children, were killed. The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was widely criticized for the incident.”
The above were just a sampling, other workers deaths are listed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_worker_deaths_in_United_States_labor_disputes from 1850 to 1979.