Labor Day. The one day of the year set aside to honor the American workforce, the people who construct the buildings, highways, bridges, and every other working part of the giant machine we call the United States. But in Washington State, one conservative think tank is so opposed to honoring American workers that its employees are staging a protest on Labor Day — by working.
The Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based group whose self-stated mission is to “reverse the stranglehold public-sector unions have on our government,” says that to protest the holiday which honors organized labor — as well as non-organized labor — it will stage a “work-in,” ignoring the holiday and requiring its employees to show up at the office Monday, September 1.
“It would be hypocritical to honor the labor movement with a holiday when we spend the rest of the year working to curb its excesses,” wrote Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe on the group’s site.
Citing the Wikipedia definition of Labor Day as a “celebration of the American labor movement… dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers… a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of their country,” McCabe decries what he calls the “strong-arm tactics, influence-peddling and corruption” of labor unions as his reason for declaring Labor Day “another day at the office for employees of the Freedom Foundation.”
However, as Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat notes in a piece critical of the Freedom Foundation Labor Day boycott, “[I]f McCabe followed this principle to its logical end, he’d have to work every Saturday, too. Year round.”
That’s because at the time Labor Day became a national holiday in 1887, workers were still required by their employers to keep work days of 10 to 16 hours or more, seven days per week. It was only through the efforts of organized labor that the “weekend” — a concept that did not even have a name until the 1870s — came into existence as a time when workers were allowed to rest.
Labor Day itself was created as a response to two violent episodes, the Haymarket Affair and the Pullman Strike, when workers protesting for better conditions — including the 8-hour work day — were gunned down by the United States military as well as police.
President Grover Cleveland signed the law making Labor Day a national holiday just six days after the end of the Pullman strike, in order to help quell further labor unrest.
The Freedom Foundation, the group which plans to protest Labor Day by working, has received funding from conservative business-affiliated sources, including the Walton Family Foundation, created by the family that founded Walmart, and the Gilder Foundation, run by conservative New York stockbroker Richard Gilder, as well as many other business-backed funding sources.