To most Americans, Labor Day represents a day off from work to hang out with family and friends, to grill out some hamburgers and throw back a few beers. Or, if you do have to work, maybe you’ll get time-and-a-half as a bonus. However, few Americans remember the bloody origins of Labor Day.
Labor Day is celebrated today, the first Monday in September. Officially, it’s a celebration of the American Labor Movement. It’s a day to honor the everyday American workers that contribute to the prosperity and achievements of the United States, according to the Department of Labor.
What was Labor Day’s instigation?
Labor Day wasn’t created out of respect of the American worker; it was created in fear of them.
Ready for a history lesson?
On Tuesday, May 4, 1886, in Chicago, a labor rally was held in Haymarket Square. The rally was held by striking workers who were crying out for an eight-hour work day. They were also rallying to decry violence that had taken place at a rally the day before when police officers had killed several protesters.
In what would go down in history as the “Haymarket Massacre,” someone threw a stick of dynamite at a group of police officers moving to break up the rally. The resulting explosion caused the officers to open fire on the crowd, and in the end three police officers and at least three onlookers were killed. Scores of others were gravely injured.
In the aftermath of the incident, eight so-called “anarchists” were found guilty of treason. One of them received a 15-year prison sentence, and the rest were sentenced to death.
Only one week after the Haymarket Massacre, on May 11, 1886, workers for the Pullman Palace Car Company – a railroad car builder – went on strike according to History.com. The following month, the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railroad cars, and that in turn crippled the railways of the nation.
The government lashed out. Federal troops were sent to Chicago to break the strike, and the result of the bloody battle was the deaths of over a dozen workers.
There was no question about it; workers were ready to fight and die for their rights, and they saw the federal government and big business as the enemy.
President Grover Cleveland was in a panic about how to repair relations with the working class. He looked to groups that had been petitioning for a national annual day to celebrate the American worker – a Labor Day – for over a decade. Cleveland saw this as a way out. He didn’t want workers commemorating either the Haymarket Massacre or the Pullman riots each and every year, so he and congress picked the first Monday of September to celebrate a nationally recognized Labor Day.
So this year, when you’re enjoying your time off, or reaping the benefit of some extra wages while at work, remember the spilled blood that marked the beginnings of Labor Day.
image via the South Carolina Conservative