August 28, 2019 by epoetus
What is it?
“Labor Day celebrates and honors the contribution of the American system of organized labor and workers to the prosperity and economic strength of the nation.” – from Thoughtco
Why do we celebrate it?
Labor unions had already begun to celebrate it by taking the day off from work starting in 1882. In 1887, Oregon was the first state in the United States to make it an official public holiday. When the Pullman strike hit in 1894 and President Grover Cleveland called in the Army to stop the strikes, which had escalated to 250,000 workers, paralyzed the national train transportation system and ultimately resulted in the loss of over a dozen lives, part of the overture to appease the Unions was to formalize the national Labor Day holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially celebrated Labor Day.
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How has the labor situation evolved over time?
As you can see from the “Unions and Shared prosperity” graph above, the progress of unions has been up and down – but mostly down over the last 60 years and has been accompanied by a rise in wealth and income inequality that has eroded the functioning of our democracy. The day itself has turned away from being a public celebration with parades, gatherings and speeches in the town square memorializing the hard work of labor unions, labor organizers and the sacrifices made during key moments in history, which resulted in greater economic equality and improved quality of life for all. It is now an occasion for family gatherings, barbecues, sporting events, and sales events at the local malls – one last good weekend before the summer ends.
Maybe the time has come for us all to regularly gather in the streets again? In January 2017, Seattle had a record turn out for the Women’s Day march. Before that there was Occupy Seattle, and various regular “Pots and Pans” gatherings in response to the World Financial Collapse. More recently there were small gatherings sponsored by Move On which intended to shed light on the Mueller report, and concerns that the investigation would be interfered with.
These civil, non-violent gatherings can attract the attention of the media and serve as a platform to spread the message. We deserve to feel empowered, and capable of bringing about the changes we need. Maybe it is time for less backyard barbecues, sporting events and “Blow Out” sales, and more fun family oriented marches, inspired rallies and intimate public gatherings.
With the 2020 elections coming up, and Elizabeth Warren’s extremely successful “Nobody Gets To Stay On The Sidelines” visit to the Seattle Center this past weekend, maybe by engaging with each other more in kindness, we will bring about the changes we need. Certainly there are issues where super majorities of Americans across the political, economic, racial and religious spectrum agree on solutions that our elected officials seem embarrassingly ham handed in their attempts to implement. Maybe this kind of change would enable them to discover some improved motor skills? Labor day is about the history of labor unions, but the formation of unions is about how people organized themselves and convinced those with power to yield to the will of the people. That is what democracy is all about, isn’t it?
The role of government is to do the most good for the most people, and the environment, for the longest time.
Unions help all workers
Labor Day history
AFL CIO labor history
Jacobin Mag Haymarket – May Day strike 1913
Elizabeth Warren Seattle Center visit
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