The History of Labor Day

It’s Labor Day folks!

What an incredible day to be off and just spending time with the family. That is what I did today. I headed to a BBQ thrown by my beautiful nephew’s mommy (Cameron). I had a ball. As I sat there enjoying both my wonderful nephew and my blended and interracial family, I was in awe at how blessed I am. My SILIT (sister in law in training) is not only a phenomenal mother, but a phenomenal person that comes from a great family. How awesome it is that we get to spend guaranteed time off with each other eating and making memories? But, why do we have a Labor Day holiday? I couldn’t recall from U.S. history class in high school where the true origin of Labor Day came from, so I hit the internet. I wanted to find out why the government recognizes Labor Day as a national holiday and you know what? It’s pretty interesting.

Labor Day originated in the late 1800’s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.  At that time, most people worked 12 hours each day for 7 days straight barely squeaking by. In some states, children as young as 5 or 6 worked in factories earning a fraction of working adult’s wages. Can you imagine that? My munch is 6 and I can’t imagine him working to support the family. Hard times. But, beyond the fact that we were working folks to death and illegally the workers often faced extremely unsafe working conditions.

As manufacturing grew, so did the labor unions. They began organizing strikes and rallies. They were protesting the conditions and arguing for new salaries and hours. Many  of the strikes and rallies turned violent. It was on September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march in NYC, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.

The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country. However, Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later. Why did they wait 12 years to do it? Economics people! On June 26, the American Railroad Union (the union for all the railroads) called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. This boycott inevitably crippled the railroad industry nationwide. Now imagine only having trains and horses to transport your items and now you can’t use the faster of the two. What do you think would happen?

So, in order to end the strike, the federal government stepped in and released troops. This only made things worse because riots happened and more than a dozen workers were killed. So, the government attempted to repair ties with the workers and Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. Cool huh? Many thanks to labor unions for organizing and requiring better wages and working conditions and many thanks to Congress for recognizing our labor.

Happy Labor Day!

 

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