Labor Day has become a bit muddled like most holidays. It’s a school day off, a day without mail service, and a great day to buy furniture—sale-sale-sale! Drinking beer and grilling mark the weekend as an unofficial end of summer partay. But what exactly does Labor Day commemorate?
Labor Day was first celebrated in the United States on September 5, 1882, in New York.
Labor unions organized that first Labor Day celebration. The day began with a parade made up of thousands of marching workers, followed by a picnic, during which speeches were given drawing public awareness to the hardships and exploitation workers often endured, and the end of the day was punctuated with a fireworks display.
The day was a nod to solidarity among workers. There is power in numbers, and we can thank labor unions for the conditions we take for granted today. Workers employed in lumber yards, factories, farms, mines, etc., had no recourse for grievances. There were no age requirements; children often worked among the ranks. No laws ensured safety from harsh conditions. 12-hour workdays were the norm. Female workers were paid as little as 33 cents per day toward the end of the 19th century.
May 1 is International Workers Day when much of the rest of the world celebrates labor. This day was chosen after the 1886 ”Haymarket Affair” in Chicago, which is also in the U.S. (I don’t know.)
Thousands of workers across the nation took part in a well-orchestrated strike that began on May 1, 1886. They were fighting for the eight-hour workday.
On May 4th, a peaceful protest at Haymarket Square in Chicago, turned into a riot when someone threw a bomb at police officers, and gunshots followed. In the end, seven police officers and four civilians were killed. Dozens more were injured.
The Haymarket Riot was retaliation for the previous day’s events. On May 3rd, police fired shots into a crowd of striking workers who had charged a gate as ”strikebreakers” (scabs) were leaving work for the day. Seven people were killed.
According to labor studies professor William J. Adelman:
On June 28, 1894, Labor Day was declared a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland, to be celebrated on every first Monday of September. (I don’t know.)
As with everything, there were political undertones to this effort. Cleveland was seeking worker’s votes.
Fast forward 125 years. Today’s political climate is blatantly anti-labor and pro-corporation. Corporate greed ensures you can not be pro-labor if you are pro-corporation. Stagnant wages and the widening wealth gap are proof. For example, the average employee needs to work for more than a month to earn what the average CEO makes in one hour.
In 2017, the Trump/GOP tax plan was created to benefit the rich and their corporations; some of the largest corporations paid no tax at all. In contrast, middle-income worker’s taxes will rise each year through 2029.
Workers carry the weight of the nation on their shoulders. Any wage increase goes directly to pay for rising health insurance premiums. The 12-hour workday is back, now in the form of second jobs, which many people have taken to keep up with inflation.
Staff cuts when business is bad leaves fewer workers doing the same amount of work but without extra compensation. When business picks up, workers are not brought back. 🤔
Former Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, was gifted $500,000 by Charles and Elizabeth Koch after the tax cut was signed.
Soon after, Ryan changed his focus to Social Security and Medicare. He said we needed to cut entitlements to decrease the record high deficit, the historic $22 trillion deficit he and his colleagues created with the tax cut. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said the same. Now Don the con says cutting Social Security is on his agenda for his second term. (We need secure elections.) The GOP says cutting Social Security and Medicare is crucial to reducing the nation’s deficit.
Some pertinent information regarding Social Security:
- Social Security and Medicare are bankrolled in full by a separate tax, deducted from every paycheck you earn. These programs do not add to the national debt.
- Social Security has a $2.89 trillion surplus, fully funded through 2038.
- Congress borrows from Social Security to cover budget shortfalls. They would like to cut benefits because they don’t want to pay back the loan.
- Social Security is currently relied on by three of five retirees, keeping some 22 million people above the federal poverty line.
My point today is that the Democratic Party is the pro-labor party. Vote blue.
Happy Labor Day! Save a beer for the one out of four working stiffs who don’t get the holiday off.