September 1: Labor Day

Happy Labor Day!
According to the US Department of Labor, today constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. This legal holiday has been in effect since 1894. Originally, the day was outlined to include a parade and then a festival for workers and their families to enjoy. Ironically, these days it’s become more of an end-of-summer 3-day holiday full of retail sales, during which people end up working extended hours. I guess we’re so far removed from how difficult making a living used to be. After all, today there is a lot of legislation governing fair labor practices, but that isn’t because of the benevolence of our early government or employers. It’s because people fought for what they deemed fair. Labor Day became a national holiday after repeated labor union strikes and protests over dismal working conditions and long hours; these protest often turned into riots, such as the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886. Eight officers and workers died after a bomb was thrown at police. Finally, in 1894 workers at Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike, protesting firings and wage cuts. They were backed by the American Railway Union who boycotted Pullman railway cars which basically crippled the nationwide railway system. After rioting and deaths occurs thanks to government troops trying to break the strike, Congress offered an olive branch by making Labor Day a national holiday.

Believe what you may of the importance of today’s unions (I have my own opinions as well), we all should be thankful for the sacrifices of the early labor unions. I may complain about my 8 hour workday, but I’m thankful 10 or 12 isn’t the norm. Or that my kids can earn an education instead of a paycheck in order for us to survive. It’s easy sometimes to forget how much more difficult our lives could be. I’m thankful for this day off that’s a reminder of how far we’ve come.

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