Every year in the United States, summer is unofficially kicked off with Memorial Day. The pools open, the BBQ grills are fired up and kids are generally out of school. To end summer we have Labor Day. It’s the last weekend for a quick vacation. The pools tend to close the day after and kids are back in school. While I discussed the history and importance of Memorial Day in a previous blog post, I would like to cap off the summer by writing about the history and significance of Labor Day.
While Memorial Day is a tribute to those who have served our Country, Labor Day 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.” Labor Day celebrations started in the United States as early as 1882, as a demonstration for workers rights, but didn’t become an official national holiday until 1896 under president Grover Cleveland.
The American Labor movement sprouted after the American Civil War, in an attempt to provide workers, especially those in factories, with better working conditions, an 8-hour day, better pay and an end to child labor, the National Labor Union was founded in 1866. From there, artisan trade unions, and unions based on occupation carpentry, steel mills etc. or race, nationality such as Irish and Italian, and religion such as Catholic were formed. These unions advocated for the special interests of their members. Some significant events leading up to the creation of Labor Day are as follows:
1882: September 5 Working Men’s Parade and Picnic in New York: About 10,000 workers participated in the parade, which wasn’t as many as the organizers expected. The parade was organized with men walking orderly with their trade unions.
1866; The Haymarket Square Incident in Chicago. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions organized a May Day strike to demand an 8-hour workday. The strike turned into more of a protest and, eventually, a riot that ended on May 3rd with police and civilian casualties. The organizers were put on trial and later hung. However, the trial was unjust – the judge and jury together decided on a guilty vote before the start of the trial. International Workers Day was created from this event.
1894: Pullman Strike, nationwide: George Pullman, president of Pullman Palace Car Company, ran a factory that made sleeper rail cars. He created a town Pullman Illinois, where his workers were required to live. When an economic recession hit, Pullman started losing money and workers wages were reduced. However, the cost of rent in Pullman City did not decrease and soon many Pullman workers went into debt. The workers went on a wildcat strike (without union backing). The American Railroad Union, in favor of the strike, allowed for members to ban Pullman Rail Cars from passing through. Soon, almost all rails west of Chicago stopped running. More than 50,000 men quit their jobs and the strike only broke up after a federal injunction. After this incident, Congress, with approval from President Cleveland, enacted the first Monday of September as Labor Day.
While there isn’t as much manufacturing in the United States as there was in the late 19th Century, there’s still quite a bit. Many have unions that work in favor of the employees to ensure workers are being compensated fairly. Unions are not limited to manufacturing either. There are unions for City and State employees, teachers, police and even librarians have Unions. Although it is funny to think about a bunch of librarians going on strike, it could have severe ramifications to those who rely on library services such as internet access and other social services. Strikes still happen today and workers are still fighting for rights such as equal pay for women, better benefits, safer working conditions, and anti-discrimination.
So Labor Day might mark the unofficial end to summer, but it also has an important place in American history. If you’re lucky to have a job like I do where you get Labor Day off, then take some time to consider why you get the day off in the first place. If for some reason you have to work (Dr’s, law enforcement, retail and restaurant employees) then take some time to appreciate the work conditions you do have. It could be worse, you could be 5 years old working for a penny an hour for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Data never takes a day off. It is always being created and collected. However, we at Access Innovations (the humans behind the data) will be taking Labor Day off.
Jennifer Crawford, MLIS
Marketing Librarian for Access Innovations, Inc.