Labor Day is always the first Thursday of September, and we want to share this momentous occasion with you! Learn about the fun and interesting history of this national holiday as well as some tips and ideas for you and loved ones to really make the most of it! You work hard and deserve to be recognized for it so let's jump right in, shall we?
HISTORY OF LABOR DAY
With today’s modern marvels and creature comforts like the internet and air conditioning, it is easy to take for granted the hard-won victories of the American Labor Movement and heart wrenching sacrifices that American workers of the past have made for us. Oregon was the first U.S. state to make Labor Day a public holiday was in 1887, but many worker’s rights were not protected by Federal law until President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Fair Labor Standards act of 1938. It was only then that minimum wage and overtime pay were guaranteed. This Act also prohibited the employment of minors in “oppressive child labor.” These entitlements did not come easy, and many tragedies were endured before making much headway. Before we get into all that, let's set the stage with a little background information.
The Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1840) was characterized by a transition of hand-made to machine-made goods as well as new chemical and iron production processes. The increased use of steam power, and the rise of the mechanized factory led to an explosion of possibilities. The global population was growing but for many, the quality of life was slow to improve. Wages in Britain, for example only rose a measly 4 percent from 1760 to 1820. Working in the dominant Textile industry meant long, grueling hours set to the pace of machines. To make ends meet and because their smaller size allowed them easier access to spaces, an estimated 1,750,178 children (more than 18 percent of the industrial labor force) aged ten to fifteen were employed under such conditions. Like the legendary “steel driving man,” John Henry, people began to take matters into their own hands to end this terrible practice.
Luddites and Roycrofters
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was correct when he wrote “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Well before the Industrial revolution, an English priest named William Lee designed a machine that would free the hands of knitters everywhere. After presenting this device to Queen Elizabeth, she denied his request for a patent saying “Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring them to ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.” Whether the Promethean fire of technological progress is a boon or the bane of humanity, I cannot say. What can be said, however, is that English “Luddites” of the early nineteenth century were none too keen on these mechanical innovations. You see, not only were the working conditions in the textile mills harsh, but the efficiency of the machines also threatened the livelihoods of skilled artisans. In the 1810s, these clandestine rebels, named after the supposed stocking frame smasher Ned Ludd, began smashing equipment and even sending death threats to their opposition. Soon “machine breaking” became a capital offense punishable by death. Today, those who possess an aversion to newfangled contraptions are often referred to as Luddites. In time, these sentiments evolved into the Arts and Crafts Movement that spread across Europe and across the pond to the United States. Supporters of this anti industrial movement focused on medieval, romantic, and folk artisanship. Chief among the movement's champions was Elbert Hubbard who in 1895 founded the arts and craft community of Roycroft in New York. Hubbard chose the name “Roycroft” after a pair of 17th century printers of the same name and because it meant King’s Craft, as in the king’s craftsmen that made up the early modern European guilds. This is relevant to Labor Day because these guilds, like the stonemasons that later became the mysterious Freemasons, kept, and passed down the secrets of their craft to their members.
Knights of Labor
In 1869 a small group of Philadelphia tailors established the secret Nobel Order of the Knights of Labor. Low skilled workers, railroad workers, immigrants, and steel workers were all welcomed members. However, bankers, land speculators, lawyers, liquor dealers and gamblers were not. As their numbers grew, the KOL functioned more as a labor union and less like a secret organization. To appease their Catholic members and the bishops who sought to avoid any resemblance to freemasonry, the Knights stopped their membership rituals and took off the words “Noble Order” from their name in 1882. They advocated for an eight-hour workday and called for legislation to end child and prison labor. By 1986, the Knights had over 700,000 members. They engaged in strikes and boycotts, but as we will see, many labor strikes have tragic outcomes. Though the Knights accepted African Americans (after 1878), women, and some immigrants, that inclusivity only went so far. Not only were Asians not welcome to join their ranks, but in 1885 the Knights violently expelled Tacoma Washington’s Chinese workers. When the Union Pacific Railroad hired willing Chinese workers in lieu of the Knights who were on strike, further racial animosity ensued. The resulting Rock Springs massacre left at least 28 Chinese miners dead, 15 wounded, and 78 Chinese homes burned. This same racist dynamic is what leads many people to argue that minimum wage perpetuates systemic racism. After the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, nothing prevented an employer who must pay a minimum wage from discriminating against an applicant of a particular race that would otherwise have done the job for less money.
Union Violence in the United States
We would prefer that the darker chapters in American history never happen, but as Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Nietzsche similarly quipped, “All great things must first wear a terrifying and monstrous mask in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.” Here is a timeline of just a few of the many tragic events that influenced the legislation for worker’s rights.
- 1877 – The Great Railroad Strike – After wages were cut a second time, workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia went on strike. The Governor sent in the militia, but the soldiers refused to use force against the workers. Then federal troops were sent in, and violence erupted. Scores of men were killed over the next several days.
- 1886 – The Haymarket Affair – A bomb was thrown into the midst of striking workers in Chicago. The aftermath of gunfire resulted in the deaths of 8 policemen and an unknown number of civilians.
- 1894 – The Pullman Strike – The depression known as the Panic of 1893 shut down much of the economy. When the Pullman Company lowered wages without lowering worker’s rents, the American Railway Union went on strike in Chicago. President Grover Cleveland sent in the army to break up the strike. The resulting riots left 30 dead in Chicago alone, and an estimated 40 more in other states.
- 1914 – Ludlow Massacre – After some 1,200 coal miners went on strike, they were attacked by the Colorado National Guard and private guards hired by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. Approximately 21 people, including miner’s wives and children were killed. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., part-owner of CF&I, was widely lambasted for having orchestrated the massacre.
Ok, enough of the sad stuff. Labor Day is a day to celebrate the collective achievements of workers everywhere! It would be adding insult to injury if we do not revel in the eventual victories of those who have fallen in the name of a just cause, especially this year since the United Nations has declared 2021 the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor! WOOHOO! So, enjoy the long weekend or the overtime pay from your employer because you deserve it! Here are some great ways to take advantage of all that Labor Day has to offer!
2. Host or attend a Labor Day Barbeque/Party
3. Shopping! As Thomas Paine once said, “Heaven knows the price of goods.” Lots of Labor Day sales going on. Stock up on a new Fall wardrobe or back to school wardrobe. Re-decorating your house or just bought a new home? Find deals on furniture, home décor, and accessories for the house.
Or, if you are traveling this Labor Day weekend, check out these great Cherry Hill Program locations.
4. USS Missouri
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is an American icon that stands in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Take a free guided tour with one of our knowledgeable Battleship Tour Guides. As you are escorted throughout the ship, you will walk the footsteps of General Douglas MacArthur and see where World War II ended.
5. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Located in New York City, New York, dedicated to the exhibition and interpretation of history, science and service as related to its home aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a National Historic Landmark. As you explore the Museum you will be able to examine original artifacts, view historic video footage and explore interactive exhibits.
6. San Antonio Zoo
Located in San Antonio, TX. The San Antonio Zoo is operated by San Antonio Zoological Society, a non-profit organization committed to securing a future for wildlife. Through its passion and expertise in animal care, conservation, and education, the zoo’s mission is to inspire its community to love, engage with, act for and protect animals and the places they live.
7. Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Located in Virginia Beach, VA. Discover the amazing underwater world of the Aquarium. Travel on an aquatic journey from the shore to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean and experience coastal habitats from around the world. Thousands of animals representing over 300 species, displayed in entertaining and educational exhibits, are ready to enchant and inspire you!
8. USS Midway
Located in San Diego, CA. With more than 30 restored aircraft, and nearly 10 acres of exhibits and displays, the Midway brings you the most complete cross-section of carrier aviation in the world. From high up on the bridge down to the main engine room, taking you on a unique warship journey that engages the sights, sounds, and aromas of this symbol of American freedom.
9. USS Yorktown
Located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, across the harbor from historic Charleston, South Carolina. Patriots Point Development Authority was established in the 1970s to develop a naval & maritime museum on Charleston Harbor with the World War II aircraft carrier, USS YORKTOWN as its centerpiece. It’s also home to the Patriots Point Museum and a fleet of National Historic Landmark ships, the Cold War Memorial and the only Vietnam Experience Exhibit in the U.S., the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the agency's official Medal of Honor Museum.
10. Lake Powell
Lake Powell is located in northern Arizona and stretches up into southern Utah. It's part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, perfect weather, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the west, Lake Powell is the ultimate playground.
11. Savannah River Boats
Located in Savannah, GA. The riverboat tours leave the dock right next to the exact location where General Oglethrope first landed on the river front and head upriver, into the Port of Savannah, and then turn around and head back under the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge and past the historic river front. The tours continue downriver passing the world famous Waving Girl, Florence Martus, through the ship yards and just past the tip of Hutchinson Island and Old Fort Jackson.
Thanks for all your hard work!