Labor Day is for the workers, not politicians | WisCommunity

Labor Day is for the workers, not politicians

[img_assist|nid=66153|title=Bay View Rolling Mill Massacre|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=386]

As we approach Labor Day, Americans ought to remember why it was created -- and by whom.

Organized labor gave the workers of this country (and not just the unionized ones) the 40-hour work week, safe working conditions, paid vacations, family and medical leave, child labor laws, decent pensions, health care benefits, sick days, unemployment compensation and much more.

And the unions gave us Labor Day. 

Labor Day is supposed to be a celebration of their achievements and a remembrance of their sacrifices over the past century and more.

Sacrifices like the deaths of seven workers in 1886 in Milwaukee during a strike at a rolling mill in support of an eight-hour work day. The governor of Wisconsin had called out the militia (certainly not the well-regulated kind called for in the Constitution). The militia fired on the crowd. The deaths arguably led to the nearly a half century of humane Socialist government in Milwaukee. (see placard, right)

The official account of Labor Day's origins at the US Department of Labor web site is helpful. Here's an excerpt:

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.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

A detailed history of the Bay View Rolling Mill Massacre is at the web site below. It's an appalling story, and one we must never allow to be repeated. The best way to do that is to remember what happened, sharing the story with your children and neighbors. Institutional violence against workers has been going on ever since; even though it may be more subtle today, we must still watch out for it and decry the perpetrators whenever it happens.



September 1, 2011 - 8:22am