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Do You Know What Labor Day Is?

I didn’t know this, probably  because I’ve never bothered to ask, but the U.S. Labor Day celebration today dates back to the 1880s, the days of robber barons and unbridled abuses of capitalism, to celebrate the labor movement. 

I suppose that should have been obvious. But we had a discussion over dinner the other day, and nobody knew. One person said they’d talked about it at their office, and decided that it had nothing to do with women giving birth.

It’s a good reminder of what the labor movement did for people back in the beginning. This is from Wikipedia:

The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date was chosen as Cleveland was concerned that aligning an American labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair. All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday.

Still, I like the pithy summary I see in the bumper stickers in our parking lot, which we share with the local headquarters of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) headquarters. For example:

Which is particularly effective when coupled with this one:

I’ve been a union member twice, both times more than 40 years ago, once in the sugar workers and once in the steel workers union. I think we pretty much take unions for granted these days, along with what they fought for. And who knows – maybe the power has shifted so much that we see unions’ excess too, like when public schools can’t fire poor teachers, and public employees get sweetheart retirement deals, better than the private sector, that drag down public budgets. What do you think?

(Image credit: the old drawing is from Wikipedia. And those bumper stickers are available for sale at


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