Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

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PHOTO: The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike

When you’ve thrown some hot dogs and hamburgers on the barbie, and are sucking on a cool one (and/or toking some fine shit) while wearing a “World’s Greatest Cook” apron, stop for a moment and try to understand why you’re celebrating (hint: not because you have a day off).

Labor Day was a response from Congress to the growing union movement of the late 19th century after US marshals and the military murdered striking workers during the Pullman Strike of 1894.

Workers of the world (disclaimer: not the Communist slogan) in those days were agitating, creating associations and unions, aided by (gasp!) socialists, communists, syndicalists (Google it), and even anarchists.

And they were making gains, in wages, working conditions, and the five-day work week with an eight-hour day (What, you thought it was always eight hours and five days?).

So of course, the powers that be reacted violently, as they are still doing, sending in armed forces to break strikes and heads so corporate persons could continue to make big profits.

But, even the feds were embarrassed, a bit, over government-sanctioned murder (there was no Internet, but newspapers – you remember those — ensured everyone heard about it), and so, only six days after the Pullman strike, Labor Day became law.

Labor Day is a memorial, to those once-powerful unions, to those agitators who gained so much for workers, to the 11.5 million unemployed in the United States as of July 2013, and the millions more who are underemployed or who have given up looking for work (while tech companies claim there is a worker shortage), to today’s workers whose earnings have stagnated since the 1970s, who have lost pensions and are being bled for health care (such as it is), who are not making enough to support themselves or their families, while (yes, still) profits soar, executives make obscene quantities of money, politicians are bought, regulations are watered down or destroyed, and workers in other countries who have our jobs now (thanks to the corporate persons) work in unsafe workplaces for a pittance.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”  -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 1863

While Lincoln was speaking of brave soldiers who truly deserved his praise, his words could also stand for workers, the true “makers” of the world, those people who create and serve, without whom all the entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, investment banks, and governments would not exist.

So remember, remember, the First Monday of September.