“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.
“The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During 1887, four more states – Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.”
“Today many Americans see Labor Day as time off from work, an opportunity to enjoy a barbecue with friends and family and a final moment of summertime relaxation before the busy fall season begins.
“But the history behind the Labor Day holiday is far more complex and dramatic than most might realize, starting with a heated campaign by workers in the late 19th century to win support and recognition for their contributions. In July 1894, President Grover Cleveland finally signed into law legislation creating a national Labor Day holiday in early September—even as federal troops in Chicago brutally crushed a strike by railroad and Pullman sleeping car company workers, leaving some 30 people dead.”
“Starting in 1884, the labor movement had called for strikes and protests on May 1 to push for an eight-hour workday. That would-be holiday was called May Day, and it’s now celebrated around the world, though it’s not officially recognized in the United States.
“You might blame the Haymarket affair. On May 4, 1886, a bomb went off at a demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in support of an eight-hour workday and against police killings of protesters. The authorities opened fire in response, and seven officers and four protesters were killed.
“The episode made headlines around the world, and the police response in Chicago was fierce. “The Anarchists Cowed,” read the headline on a front-page Times article on May 8, with a subtitle, “Forced to Seek Hiding Places — The Disorderly Element Thoroughly Frightened.” Eight anarchists were convicted, and four were hanged. Critics argued the trial was conducted poorly, and seven years later, Gov. John P. Altgeld pardoned the three who were still alive.
“In the years that followed, May Day became an occasion for protesting the arrests of socialists, anarchists and unionists. As it became associated with the radical left — and as Labor Day was recognized by more and more states — the latter came to be the dominant holiday in the United States.
“In recent decades, Labor Day has been dominated more by barbecues, sales and last-chance beach days than strident labor protests. The labor movement has weakened….”
Happy Labor Day, my Americados. Especially for those of us who actually got the day off. For those of you still slogging in the trenches, I salute you, and I hope people aren’t too big of assholes to you while they trawl for cheap prices on Chinese-made garbage.