What is Labor Day? The U.S. Department of Labor explains, "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." It started out as a holiday in a number of cities. In 1894, the U.S. Congress made it a federal holiday.
Historian Linda Stinson reviews the evolution and growth of the holiday:
The Labor Day holiday is interesting because it evolved over a period of years. In 19th century America, there was already a tradition of having parades, picnics and various other celebrations in support of labor issues, such as shorter hours or to rally strikers. But most historians emphasize one specific event in the development of today’s modern Labor Day. That pivotal event was the parade of unions and a massive picnic that took place in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882.
At that time, the labor movement was growing stronger. Many of the unions in New York prospered by joining together into one Central Labor Union made up of members from many local unions. On May 14, 1882, a proposal was made at the Central Labor Union meeting that all workers should join together for a “monster labor festival” in early September. A committee of five people was appointed to find a park for the celebration. They chose Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue, the largest park in New York City at that time; the date was set for Tuesday, September 5. By June, they had sold 20,000 tickets with the proceeds going to each local union selling them. In August, the Central Labor Union passed a resolution “that the 5th of September be proclaimed a general holiday for the workingmen in this city.”
At first they were afraid that the celebration was going to be a failure. Many of the workers in the parade had to lose a day’s pay in order to participate. When the parade began only a handful of workers were in it, while hundreds of people stood on the sidewalk jeering at them. But then slowly they came – 200 workers and a band from the Jewelers’ Union showed up and joined the parade. Then came a group of bricklayers with another band. By the time they reached the park, it was estimated that there were 10,000 marchers in the parade in support of workers.
The park was decorated with flags of many nations. Everyone picnicked, drank beer and listened to speeches from the union leadership. In the evening, even more people came to the park to watch fireworks and dance. The newspapers of the day declared it a huge success and “a day of the people.”
After that major event in New York City, other localities began to pick up the idea for a fall festival of parades and picnics celebrating workers.
Today Free Speech Radio News celebrates with a special:
On Capitol Hill, elected officials have long supported big agricultural and industrial-scale farming that requires massive inputs of chemicals and fossil fuels. But can this system continue to feed the population of a warming planet?
Just a few miles up the road from where lawmakers set far-reaching policy, some DC residents are organizing to create something different. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein takes us to a farm called Three Part Harmony, where we explore what urban, organic agriculture could do both for a community and the environment they live in, and how US policy could better support it.
This documentary was produced by Alice Ollstein and edited by Shannon Young. Our technical producer at KPFA is Jeannine Etter. The original music in this documentary was performed by Owen Grooms, a young farmer in North Carolina. Special thanks to everyone who supported this project on Indiegogo.
Also celebrating the holiday is Law and Disorder Radio. Law and Disorder Radio, is a weekly, hour long program which streams online and airs first each Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week. The program is hosted by three attorneys: Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights).
Along with updates on Chelsea Manning and U.S. President Barack Obama's desire to attack Syria, this week's program offers a look at labor. They do this most movingly with Silvia Perez sharing her experiences as a field worker. Jake Ratner, son of Michel Ratner, translates Ms/ Perez's remarks. When you eat a sandwich or burger at a national chain, it is the work of people like Ms. Sylvia that harvest the tomato, onion, and lettuce on your sandwich or burger. Lawyer Daniel Gross and Flaum Appetizing's Juan Romero address the topic of union-busting in the world of fast food. And Peter Siegel and Eli Smith (Michael Smith's son) bring the history of the labor movement alive with folk music from their new album The Union Makes Us Strong.
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has a Labor Day essay which includes:
Every human being enjoys a basic right to be respected, not because of any title, position, prestige, or accomplishment but first of all because we are created in the image and likeness of God. From an ethical and moral perspective we embrace the exhortation of St. Paul "to anticipate one another in showing honor" (Rom 12:10). Today's competitive culture challenges us to strive for victory and advantage, but for St. Paul the challenge is to build each other up and honor one another's innate dignity.
Labor Day is an opportunity to take stock of the ways workers are honored and respected. Earlier this year, Pope Francis pointed out, "Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. . . . It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one's family, to contribute to the growth of one's own nation." Unfortunately, millions of workers today are denied this honor and respect as a result of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse, and exploitation.Even with new indicators of some modest progress in recovery, the economy still has not improved the standard of living for many people, especially for the poor and the working poor, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed. More than four million people have been jobless for over six months, and that does not include the millions more who have simply lost hope. For every available job, there are often five unemployed and underemployed people actively vying for it. This jobs gap pushes wages down. Half of the jobs in this country pay less than $27,000 per year. More than 46 million people live in poverty, including 16 million children. The economy is not creating an adequate number of jobs that allow workers to provide for themselves and their families. Jobs, wages, and poverty are interrelated. The only way to reduce the widening gap between the affluent and the poorest people in our nation is by creating quality jobs that provide a just compensation that enables workers to live in the dignity appropriate for themselves and their families.
My U.S. Senators are Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. Neither seems to know today is Labor Day judging by their websites. Along with failing workers, I will note Mr. Murphy used his website to proclaim "There is no longer any question that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons to commit unspeakable atrocities against the people of Syria -- his actions are absolutely reprehensible and in blatant violation of international law." last Tuesday. What United Nations' inspectors are still attempting to determine, whether or not chemical weapons have been used, Mr. Murphy 'knows.' So he is both highly stupid and insulting to workers. I am going to have to start voting Green in my state. Senator Bernie Sanders was my next thought. He is sort of the U.S. Senator for all the country's workers and I knew he would not forget the day. This is from his website:
In advance of Labor Day weekend, there were nationwide protests on Thursday by low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants in more than 50 cities. Jobs and economic justice were common themes at Wednesday’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. A report on Monday said U.S. workers' pay isn't even keeping up with inflation. What do you think about the minimum wage, striking fast-food workers and the role of organized labor in America?
Fast-Food Strikes Many of the workers at fast-food chains are paid only the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which has not changed since 2009. Sanders is a cosponsor of legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, about what it would be if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation over the past 50 years. After one-day strikes were staged earlier this summer, Sanders praised the workers “who are standing up for justice, who are putting a spotlight on one of the major economic crises facing this country.” While fast-food chains pay what Sanders called “starvation wages,” he noted that the top executives for the same firms are paid millions of dollars a year.
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