A welcome respite from all the dregs we have had to stomach all summer is long overdue. When we should have been choking on perspiring hot dogs dabbed with mustard and relish, we were forced fed explicit gang violence in Chicago and cop shootings in the Twin Cities. In lieu of cold lager meant to douse our gullets, we were offered spittle collected from the porcine smile of a Korean dictator. From their mouths, flies vomited hate and intolerance onto our meats that caused indigestion before ingestion, ebbing us closer towards affliction for which we may not be medically covered. And then, there are the storms, with their unfriendly names and cautious stages – Hurricane Harvey began as a storm and left as a depression – why aren’t tornadoes and earthquakes personified in a similar vein? If for whatever reason they are, then what about wild fires? Something for you to ponder this Labor Day.
A day that has its roots in a bloody Chicago workers strike, back when Labor Day was called May Day, and probably would have included a lower case u in its spelling, had it been. The year was 1886 and America was waist deep in a Great Depression (it turns out there were two of those things) and labor disputes were rampant throughout the land. Americans worked a 60-hour week, whilst immigrants competed for lower wages. Some 200 Chinese were forcibly expelled from Seattle before President Cleveland sent in troops to restore order after labor unions started riots in protest to competing Chinese workers.
Many immigrants – mostly German and Irish – sought refuge beneath the banners of anarchy and socialist movements who rallied for increased wages, better conditions, and an 8-hour work day.
This idea appealed to even the staunchest opponents of socialism, and before long, people were striking and marching. Adam C. Uzialko of the Business News Daily writes the following.
“The types of rallies and strikes featured on that very first labor day became frequent and widespread during the Industrial Era. Unions, which made up the core of the labor movement, used these tactics – as well as general workplace organizing – as a way to gain concessions in regard to hours, wages, and working conditions from their employers. Sometimes the clashes — and subsequent repression — grew notoriously violent.”
The violence reached its apex on May Day, as thousands took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations all across the country. However, it was the demonstration in Chicago that would ultimately lead to employment reforms and one last holiday at summers end.
Demonstrations there were centered around the police shooting of a striker, at a manufacturing company, several days earlier. Someone threw a stick of dynamite into the stream of protesters, causing mass havoc. At the end of the day, 11 people were dead including seven police officers, whom many believed, exchanged fire amongst themselves in the dark and smoky melee. The assailant was never found. The urgency of workers rights and the shake up of industry, which often had connections to crooked mobsters, followed. President Cleveland rallied for legislation standardizing the 8-hour work day, proper working conditions, and topped it off with a holiday at summers end. He did not want the likes of anarchist memorializing a tragedy on a day meant for workers, so Labor Day fell on the first Monday in September.
Labor Day, like most other American holidays, had its propagation in a bit of carnage and revolt. So it is only fitting that we continue to celebrate these times with roasting flesh. The American landscape is speckled with wild pigs. So as the summer winds down and we try our best to forget about the things that make even sitting on the couch feel like work, let us be grateful to the ones who have endured injustices, challenged crooked politics, and even lost their lives just so we can continue to work hard and collect that overtime. Cha- Ching!
[Featured Image by Tom Pennington/Getty Images]