Americans all over the nation enjoy the first Monday of September as Labor Day. The holiday is celebrated through retail sales and cookouts, but also marks the ending of white clothes and the summer holiday.
However, this national holiday celebrating workers originated during a dismal chapter of American labor history. During the peak of the Industrial Revolution, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. As manufacturing jobs increased American employment, labor unions grew more prominent and vocal.
Labor unions began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor working conditions and help employers to renegotiate hours and pay. Still, some were able to establish longer traditions like the Labor Day parade. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City creating the first “labor day.”
Soon, the idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” caught on in other industrial areas across the country. Many states even passed legislation recognizing it, but Congress did not legalize it until the Pullman riots.
In June 1894, American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars as a response to wage cuts and the firing of union reps at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago. This caused crippling railroad traffic nationwide so the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago. Instead of remedying the conflict, riots broke out and resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers. In an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress responded by making Labor Day a legal holiday.
As you celebrate this year, it’s important to remember that this national holiday is not only a day for all Americans to take a rest from work, but also the result of workers in the manufacturing industry demanding the right to work in ethical conditions.