If you don’t know the history of Labor Day, you should. This is a pretty good run-down of the events leading up to its founding.
…in 1893, the Pullman company was caught in the nationwide economic depression. Orders for railroad sleeping cars declined, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while rents in Pullman remained consistent. Take-home paychecks plummeted.
And so the employees walked out, demanding lower rents and higher pay. The American Railway Union, led by a young Eugene V. Debs [ed. note: ZOMG A SOCIALIST!], came to the cause of the striking workers, and railroad workers across the nation boycotted trains carrying Pullman cars. Rioting, pillaging, and burning of railroad cars soon ensued; mobs of non-union workers joined in.
The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. Violence erupted, and two men were killed when U.S. deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago, but the strike was doomed.
On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over. Debs went to prison, his ARU was disbanded, and Pullman employees henceforth signed a pledge that they would never again unionize. Aside from the already existing American Federation of Labor and the various railroad brotherhoods, industrial workers’ unions were effectively stamped out and remained so until the Great Depression.
It was not the last time Debs would find himself behind bars, either. Campaigning from his jail cell, Debs would later win almost a million votes for the Socialist ticket in the 1920 presidential race [ed. note: ZOMG A SOCIALIST RAN FOR PRESIDENT!].
The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland’s harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation’s workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland’s desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.
1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born.
We’re only celebrating Labor Day today because of the brave men and women who paid with their lives to fight for an equitable and dignified wage and working conditions. Organized labor helped build the greatest middle class in human history. And yet, as our country celebrates this monumental achievement today, you see headlines from the right like this one.
Happy Labor Day: Top 10 union thug moments of the year
Unions have been a part of America for over 130 years. When people like the Anchor Baby tear down labor, they’re tearing down our country.