Amid the strain of relearning your class schedules and feeling out your new teachers, and with the responsibilities that stack up on students, the break from the stress on Sept. 5 was appreciated.
Why do we observe Labor Day, though? For what purpose do we get another day to spend time with family, grill on the river with friends and (as is my case) sit around all day and play “Halo 2” or “Oddworld: Strangers Wrath.”
What is amazing, though, is not that people do not know why we celebrate Labor Day, but there is such a lack of information surrounding the holiday. Though different sources depict Labor Day in different ways, one thing is certain: The government does not even know who began the holiday.
The information we do have, though, is pretty concrete: Sept. 5 is Labor Day, Oregon was the first state to adopt the holiday in 1887 and some guy with the last name McGuire definitely probably was the creator of the holiday.
Anyway around it, thanks a lot guy. Also, thanks a lot to Toby, Jerry and Mark; they are some McGuire’s that bring me a healthy dose of entertainment from the modernistic side of the world.
Other obscure facts (or not) lie in the president that created it. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site (www.DOL.gov) does not even cite Grover Cleveland as the president that made it a holiday June 23, 1894. They do mention how it should be properly celebrated, though.
The celebration of Labor Day is linked to parades, followed by a festival. The tradition of the parade began in New York circa 1882, which somehow we lost, opting instead to cook barbeque with our families and friends.
While all of this seems like a pretty simplistic version, cut and dried, I was not very impressed with its hot apple pie, baseball and flag-burning illegal government-rhetoric. It all seemed a little too happy, like the Teletubbies made it for us.
PBS.org’s story swings a bit differently. They tell of a sleeping-car production company and its owner, George Pullman, along with his fiefdom in Pullman, Ill. The town consisted of Victorian houses for the managers of his production mill, row houses for his workers, a luxurious motel for traveling businessmen and a bank.
Pullman’s workers rented their houses, cashed their paychecks and toiled in the factory, under the protective arm of their boss. In 1893, the Pullman Company began to feel the crunch of a nationwide depression. Employees that were not laid off, were forced to work for ever dwindling sums of money, as rent in their utopia stayed the same.
Demanding more everything, they walked out on Pullman and turned to the American Railway Union. The ensuing strike forced a deployment of 12,000 troops, as strikers boycotted, pillaged and burned Pullman railroad cars.
Two men were killed, the ARU disbanded and the nation had a new holiday in 1894. Trying to gain votes, during an election year, President Cleveland signed Labor Day into existence as a political ploy, a bid that regardless lost him the election.
This was the Labor Movement: strong enough, through unions, to create a celebration when there was no reason to before; strong enough to make its presence known worldwide.
Today, Canada and other industrialized nation-states celebrate Labor Day. So what does that say about us? Only 15 percent of Americans belong to unions, and lobbyists in Washington are not hired by them to make our working lives better.
Sadly, all we can do is mourn the power that the American people once galvanized into a force that shook the government to its core. We no longer have those rights, that power; we are the forgotten. We are ground mercilessly under the machine of commerce.