Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. But for those in the labor movement, the day represents justice for employees.
How Labor Day came to be
In her article “How Labor Day got its violent start,” USA Today reporter Susan Miller describes the holiday as a violent and pivotal moment in U.S. labor history. In the late 1800s, U.S. employees often worked 12 hour workdays under dangerous work conditions for little pay. Based on these poor work conditions, workers formed the nation’s first labor unions, which organized protests and strikes for better hours and pay.
In 1882, 10,000 New York City workers from New York’s Central Labor Union marched from City Hall to Union Square without pay, marking the first unofficial Labor Day parade. State governments recognized the day through legislation in the years that followed.
Twelve years later, in 1894, workers took an even bigger stand. A Chicago strike involving 250,000 workers in 25 states created a transportation catastrophe across the U.S.:
The community, located on the Southside of Chicago, was designed as a “company town” in which most of the factory workers who built Pullman cars [railroad sleeping cars] lived. When wage cuts hit, 4,000 workers staged a strike that pitted the American Railway Union vs. the Pullman Company and the federal government. The strike and boycott against trains triggered a nationwide transportation nightmare for freight and passenger traffic.
At its peak, the strike involved about 250,000 workers in more than 25 states. Riots broke out in many cities; President Grover Cleveland called in Army troops to break the strikers; more than a dozen people were killed in the unrest.
After the turbulence, Congress, at the urging of Cleveland in an overture to the labor movement, passed an act on June 28, 1894, making the first Monday in September “Labor Day.” It was now a legal holiday.
We’re still fighting
In the U.S., we’re still lacking healthy workplace conditions. We live in a country where bosses can bully their employees: harm the health of their subordinates through repeated mistreatment (false accusations, sabotage, and taking away responsibility without cause, for example) and get away with it – even though it demotivates employees and hurts organizations’ bottom lines.
So workplace bullying targets still fight for dignity and respect. We deserve to work for bosses who promote a sense of belonging, fair treatment, and empowerment.
Change the rules
If you live in Massachusetts, write to your legislators and demand that employers be held accountable for workplace bullying through legislation.
If you live outside Massachusetts, find out how to help end workplace bullying in your state.