A Labor Day History Lesson
Ah yes, Americans!
We’ll do anything to get a day off work. Even to the point of inventing new “holidays” to accomplish this.
So, here we are on another Labor Day.
Picnics, pool partys, beach days, cook outs, all to mark the end of the summer season.
But, did you ever think about the origin of this holiday? Maybe you have and already know but for those who don’t, here’s how it happened.
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.
There is some controversy over whether Matthew Mcguire or Peter McGuire is the true founder but one thing os completely clear.
It was founded by ORGANIZED LABOR.
As we like to call them, Labor Unions.
And, like so many other things in history, the story only started here.
On May 1, 1886, Chicago (along with other cities) was the site of a major union demonstration in support of the eight-hour workday. The Chicago protests were meant to be part of several days of action. On May 3, a strike at the McCormick Reaper plant in the city turned violent; the next day, a peaceful meeting at Haymarket Square became even more so.
Here’s how TIME summed it up in 1938:
“A few minutes after ten o’clock on the night of May 4, 1886, a storm began to blow up in Chicago. As the first drops of rain fell, a crowd in Haymarket Square, in the packing house district, began to break up. At eight o’clock there had been 3,000 persons on hand, listening to anarchists denounce the brutality of the police and demand the eight-hour day, but by ten there were only a few hundred. The mayor, who had waited around in expectation of trouble, went home, and went to bed. The last speaker was finishing his talk when a delegation of 180 policemen marched from the station a block away to break up what remained of the meeting. They stopped a short distance from the speaker’s wagon. As a captain ordered the meeting to disperse, and the speaker cried out that it was a peaceable gathering, a bomb exploded in the police ranks. It wounded 67 policemen, of whom seven died. The police opened fire, killing several men and wounding 200, and the Haymarket Tragedy became a part of U. S. history.”
Hundreds of labor leaders and sympathizers were later rounded-up and four were executed by hanging, after a trial that was seen as a miscarriage of justice.
The following day on 5 May in Milwaukee Wisconsin, the state militia fired on a crowd of strikers killing seven, including a schoolboy and a man feeding chickens in his yard.
In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared that, in commemoration of the Haymarket affair, May 1 would be an international holiday for labor, now known in many places as International Workers’ Day.
In 1889, a meeting in Paris was held by the first congress of the Second International, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne that called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. May Day was formally recognised as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891.
Subsequently, the May Day riots of 1894 occurred.
The May Day riots of 1894 were a series of violent demonstrations that took place throughout Cleveland, Ohio on May 1, 1894.
The city was suffering from an economic crisis. Eventually scores of people lost their jobs and this led to the massive demonstrations and rallies. These became violent and led to confrontations with authorities. The mob consisted of around 4,000 men, who were said to be “a rabble made up chiefly of foreigners”.
The mob marched through the manufacturing district of the city, called “The Flats” armed with clubs and stones. Much property was destroyed, but they were ultimately taken down by the police. Men with flags shouted to the crowd to encourage them to join the riots, but only about a dozen boys joined them. The square was abandoned as the mob marched on. The crowd was “hooting and jeering those who didn’t join them.”
They then attacked firemen, believing they were police. The firemen held their ground as clubs flew. They soon met up with the leader of the mob, who encouraged them to keep peace; he was ignored. They entered the foundry department, where workmen were forced to halt. One man attempted to restart his work, but was held by mob members while others fled from the building. Shops were closed and barred, while employees fled.
Mobmen all ran at the Standard Paint Works with the cry “Victory!” The workers of the shop joined the ranks of the men in their attack of the Upson Nut Works. People threw coal at the shop, breaking windows and knocking down workers before they had the chance to retreat. Many men on the inside of the factory were injured in the raid. The coal-throwing stopped as the mob rushed the gates. This slight resistance made the mob take “vengeance by tearing the doors and gates to pieces.”The men then took complete possession over the building, and workers fled in terror. Everything breakable in the shop was destroyed. They left the destroyed shop and went down the railroad tracks to the main office of the company.
The police came, which deterred the mob for a short period of time. They took over the coal carts and used them as barriers as they surrounded the police; they threw stones at them. Some of the rioters were scared by the presence of the police, and fled. The crowd of
5,000 “dwindled to half that number.” The leaders of the riot planned an attack on the Faulhaber Furniture Company; but the police stopped them before there could be a repeat of the event at the Upson factory. The police grew to such numbers that they “presented a formidable appearance.” They dispersed the rioters and arrested their leader, Tom Moore.
The eastern part of the city was little better off. A throng of 200 Italians marched through the streets armed with clubs, iron and wire rods, and gate posts. At Gates’s quarry there were speeches and threats; workers dropped their tools and joined them. The same speeches and threats were made at Neff’s quarry, and more men joined. At Reader’s quarry, there was little opposition. They broke into boarding houses and compelled more to join them.
The Mayor urged the people not to riot, and called for police forces to be assembled. The stated that the city would use every power to maintain law and order. Armories were prepared for discharge at the mayor’s order
Another mob forced the workers of the United Salt Company out. They proceeded to the Cleveland Rolling Mills where they met by the police. After several minutes of serious clubbing, the mob dispersed in every direction. Seven men, all with broken heads, were arrested.
Policemen were stationed in the public square to prevent any gathering there. There was also considerable fear that the rioters would gather the dynamite used by the railroad companies to blow up factories and private residences; however, there is no evidence that they did so.
The International Socialist Congress, Amsterdam 1904 called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.”
The congress made it “mandatory upon the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on 1 May, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers.”
On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation, which was unanimously passed by Congress, making the first Monday in September as a Federal holiday.
Cleveland, a Democrat, made reconciliation with a then-troubled labor movement a high priority. He also sought to distance the new federal holiday from existing international May Day celebrations — with their socialist connotations.
May Day has been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups since the Second International. May Day is one of the most important holidays in communist countries such as the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Cuba and the former Soviet Union. May Day celebrations in these countries typically feature elaborate workforce parades, including displays of military hardware and soldiers.
In the U.S., that holiday came in for particular contempt during the anti-communist fervor of the early Cold War. In July of 1958, President Eisenhower signed a resolution named May 1 “Loyalty Day” in an attempt to avoid any hint of solidarity with the “workers of the world” on May Day. The resolution declared that it would be “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States of America and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.”
So, out of the much despised and maligned organized labor movement in the United States, and the hated socialists and communists of Europe, we devised a way to get an extra day off work.
Proving that ALL ideals are subject to how they will benefit “ME!”
THAT’S what is called AMERICAN INGENUITY!