"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, said in 1898. "All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day... is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation." Well, not exactly.
Some of the Many Events Leading Up To a National Labor Day
Pullman, Illinois was a Company town, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Its residents all worked for the Pullman Company, their paychecks drawn from Pullman bank, and their rent, set by Pullman, deducted automatically from their weekly paychecks. But in 1893, the Pullman Company was caught in a nationwide economic depression, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while their rents remained the same. And so the employees walked out -- they went on strike. The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over.
In all fairness to history and looking back a dozen years, 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 Knights of Labor (two unions, two guys named Maguire, too many years past to really know). It is said they were inspired by an annual labor parade held in Toronto, Canada. Other labor organizations (and there were many) favored a May 1 holiday.
With the events of Chicago's Haymarket riots in early May of 1886 (which occurred on May 4th but was the culmination of labor unrest which began on May 1, which date became the socialist holiday known as the International Workers' Day or "Labour" Day), president Grover Cleveland believed a May 1 holiday could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus, he quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Central Labor Union / the Knights of Labor and their date for Labor Day, the first Monday in September.
The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first bill to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During that year four more states -- Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York -- followed suit. By the end of the decade so had Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.
By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers. As 1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was, by the way, not reelected.
Today We Have Summer's "Last" Holiday
Over a century after Gompers spoke his words in 1898, Labor Day is considered the last long weekend of summer. Community pools and beaches host their last "open" weekend. Children, unfortunately as they might put it, count the day(s) until they once again go back to school. Friends and families gather, clog the highways, the picnic grounds, and in their own backyards bid farewell to summer, on this the first Monday of September -- our Labor Day.
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt