Guest Column: Born of Hardship

Guest Column: Born of Hardship

Jeffrey Edel
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
St Augustine, FL

Labor Day constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The holiday was created by a then fledgling trade union movement during a dismal and difficult period for American workers. In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial revolution, the average American worked 12 or more hours a day, and often seven days each week just to eke out a basic living.

Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of an adult’s wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and even rest breaks.

Labor organizing was often met with massive layoffs or violence with some strikes being broken by the use of fully armed federal troops.

With the growth of modern industry, as manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, urbanization fueled the growth of large industrial cities. This brought larger groups of laborers into closer contact.

Labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.

Many of these events turned violent. At times Government troops were even called in to break strikes at gunpoint. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions.

On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.

On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday throughout the nation.

Workers of the World, enjoy your holiday.

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