For those of you heading off to celebrate the three-day weekend — and for those of you just heading to the backyard barbecue grill –— here’s a little reminder of the origins of Labor Day and the labor movement that it represents.
Though the first U.S. Labor Day was celebrated in New York City in 1882, President Glover Cleveland instituted the first national commemoration as an act of penance.
In 1894, Pullman porters called a wildcat strike against the railroads to protest a pay cut — a strike which eventually involved about 250,000 workers in 27 states. (Among the leaders of the strike was Eugene V. Debs, an actual, card-carrying socialist.) Several workers were killed by soldiers, and Cleveland put reconciling with trades unions at the top of his agenda. He rushed through Congress a bill making Labor Day a national holiday.
So, as you’re enjoying your barbecue and cold beer, your baseball and your Labor Day sales, just remember that the labor movement brought you the eight-hour day, the five-day work week and institutionalized vacations. And remember the socialist whose actions helped bring about Labor Day!