Well, here we are a week into September. How did that happen so fast? School has started and last weekend was the last hurrah of summer.
I hope everybody enjoyed that three-day Labor Day weekend. While we enjoyed that day off, I wonder how many of us gave a thought to how it got started, or even what it’s really all about.
Labor Day (spelled “Labour” in Canada) has been a holiday over a century in the USA and Canada. It became an official holiday in both countries in 1894, shortly after the disastrous Pullman Strike near Chicago in which 12,000 troops were sent by President Grover Cleveland to break it up. U.S. Marshals killed two protesters. Starting with the Pullman Strike and labor leaders Eugene V. Debs, Samuel Gompers, and others, the movement began.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (www.dol.gov), “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.
It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
By 1950 nearly half of our nation’s workers belonged to unions. By 1995 this figure went down to about 15 percent. It seems the three-day weekend has more relevance these days than the labor movement.
It hasn’t always been this way. Observing Labor Day started before it became official. Back in 1882 Matthew McGuire, secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, proposed the holiday. The idea spread with the growth of unions. By the time Congress and President Cleveland officially established the national observance, 24 states (over half the states at that time) had already adopted the Labor Day holiday.
It isn’t all that surprising that Canada has the same holiday on the same day. After all, the two countries have such a close relationship, including the world’s longest unfortified border. In all fairness, even though they spell it differently and have hockey and lacrosse instead of baseball and football as the national pastimes, I should mention that Canada came up with the worker holiday idea about 10 years before McGuire did.
The Canadian National Union of Public and General Employees (www.nupge.ca) points out that 24 Toronto Typographical Union members took to the streets back in 1872 to protest union membership being illegal. Ten thousand people turned out for the demonstration. Before the end of the year Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald had the statute repealed. In 1894 Parliament made Labour Day official.
So, the next time we enjoy goofing off on that first Monday of September, maybe we should pause and think a moment about the folks who got it all started.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: