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What the Heck is Labor Day Anyway?

Posted on August 28 2018

Ahh, Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer, and the last day to wear those white pants you should have never bought. For a lot of us, Labor Day is a nice long weekend where we can spend time with family and friends, eating bbq and corn on the cob, but what is the point of Labor Day? Where did this extra day off even come from? A few of my fellow L&Cers weren't so sure what it was all about, so I thought I'd dive into some history, and find out for all of us!


This footloose and fancy free holiday actually originated from a long history of labor struggle. It's a day to celebrate American workers and unionising. In school you may have learned about the Industrial Revolution when we went from being an agriculture based economy to a goods and services based economy. This lead to an influx in urbanization with the introduction of factories, large buildings, and power plants. So Americans were all like, "new means of production, who dis?" No one was really sure how the workers should be treated or whether or not children should be allowed to work with large machinery. (And of course, before this, you know, the first 100 years of American history, if there was one thing wealthy land/business owners knew, was how to treat their workers with comfortable conditions and livable pay 😑)

So the big guys in charge of the factories thought, "Hmm... How can we do this so that we make the most money? I know! Let's work our employees to exhaustion and pay them 10 cents an hour. (~ $3.00 today.) Yay capitalism!" 

Kapitalismus Seize the memes of production(source)

So the workers were tired, starving, and dying, while their bosses got richer. They were FED UP. The workers were all like, "Let's start unions, where we all band together and tell our bosses that we have to be treated fair 'cause it's the rules now!" The bosses, so surprisingly, did not like the thought of making less money just to get some dudes and their kids from complaining about how they're "starving and dying." So the bosses started firing people that were unionizing. This really pissed the workers off, so they started going on strike. At one company that manufactured rail road cars, the Pullman Palace Car Company, the workers and union went on strike, and the U.S. Government was sent in to break up the strike. If we've learned anything from history it's that sending military troops into a protest never ends badly.🙄 So of course, riots broke out, and it was a big mess that lead to the deaths of dozens of union workers. After all this happened, Congress and President Grover Cleveland were like, "Oh shit, this can't happen," so eventually, there was legislation put into place that set a standard for how workers should be treated and compensated (i.e minimum wage), but first they wanted to create a new holiday to memorialize the fight of the American workers, and that holiday's name? Labor Day. 

Image of Burning of Six Hundred Freight-Cars on the Panhandle Railroad, South of Fiftieth Street, on the Evening of July 6th


So, this Labor Day, while your chowing on your corn and throwing bean bags at plywood, think of those that work labor intensive jobs. Take some time to appreciate contractors, roofers, janitors, factory workers, even restaurant servers. Show gratitude to anyone that works hard to provide you with a product that makes life easier. People that work labor-intensive jobs often have to still work on this holiday that was made for them. Also, take some time to think of how hard those unionizers before them fought so that the rest of us can can work comfortably and make relatively decent pay.

Then, most importantly, throw away those ugly white pants.   


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