Many see the Labor Day weekend as the last days of summer. It’s the last long weekend before the dreary days of fall and winter. It’s the last paid holiday before Thanksgiving.
But if you are a history buff, you know Labor Day is the time to celebrate the labor movement and how it paved the way for a better, more healthy life.
While many of us labor in stressful conditions and often feel overworked and underpaid — especially during these uncertain economic times — it was nothing compared to the harsh working conditions around the turn of the century.
No one can argue that the Industrial Revolution was a main catalyst for capitalism. Ultimately, the Industrial Revolution became the foundation for the fortunes we enjoy today. For example, electrical power and the internal combustion engine were products of the Industrial Revolution.
During the late 1800s — the early days of the Industrial Revolution — the average American worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a living. There was no welfare, social security or 401K plans.
For many families, children were also required to work. They were cheap laborers and the laws were not strictly enforced.
Back then, work was extremely wearisome and down-right slave-like.
That’s when American unions stepped up, demanded better working conditions and ultimately made life more enjoyable.
On Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, workers marched from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. The idea caught on around the country as more states held these parades. Congress finally made it a legal holiday in 1894 after plenty of rioting and bloodshed.
On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago protested wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. The workers looked for help from their union, led by Eugene V. Debs.
About six weeks later, the American Railroad Union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Fifty thousand workers agreed with the boycott and the result was that railroad service out of Chicago came to a halt. On July 4, President Grover Cleveland sent troops to Chicago and put an end to the boycott. Debs, along with three other union officials, was jailed for disobeying the President’s orders.
But while it looked like a defeat at first, the bloody, nasty strike brought the issue to the forefront of the public eye. And in 1894, Congress declared the first Monday in September would be a holiday for our country’s hard workers, known as Labor Day.
So as you enjoy your backyard barbecue or one last camping trip before fall, remember — and celebrate — those people before us who never got a chance to enjoy a paid day off.
Back in the day, everyday was Labor Day.