Why Honor Organized Labor on Labor Day?

by on September 7, 2009 · 17 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, History, Labor, Organizing, War and Peace

laborday1882nyc

First Labor Day parade, Union Square, New York, 1882

Editor: Labor Day was picked by the Establishment as an alternative to May Day – May 1st –  the original workers’ holiday.  May Day was then seen as too “red” – too associated with socialist movements and countries – even though it was started right here in the good ol’ US of A.

by jgoodman / Daily Kos / September 6, 2009

Labor Day, to most people, is little more than the end of summer. Labor Day commemorates the labor union movement, the demand for an eight hour work day, better working conditions, fair wages and an end to child labor.

In 1894 Labor Day became a federal holiday celebrated as a “workingman’s holiday” on the first Monday of September honoring the contributions of working men and women to America.

While labor unions were organizing in the 1870’s, small farmers, through the Grange Movement were trying to break the power of the railroads, the meat packers and the grain milling interests. Mary Elizabeth Lease urged the farmers to “raise less corn and more hell”, but farmers could never unite as the labor unions had.

In the mid-1960’s, farm worker organizers Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta formed the United Farm Workers (UFW). When the UFW’s table grape boycott brought the plight of the farm workers onto the national stage, Dolores Huerta connected the feminist movement and gender rights with the farm worker movement. And why not? Women worked the fields along side the men.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) organized in 1925 became the first African-American union to join the American Federation of Labor. Many of those involved in BSCP became leaders in the civil rights movement.

Gender equality, racial equality, fair farm prices and farm worker rights were separate issues but all related to the struggle of the unions for a fair wage and decent working conditions. Labor unions may have initially been all white and all male but, that changed.

Unions were never about the individual, they were about everyone. If one is oppressed, all are oppressed. Labor unions recognized the need to bring everyone into the struggle regardless of color or gender, because the struggle was about everyone.

Now, generations after the early struggles of labor unions, corporations have done their best to de-unionize America. Exporting jobs, closing union factories and union busting have taken their toll on jobs, wages and the economy in general.

Whether it was exploitation from the “Robber Barron’s” of the nineteenth century, the segregationists of the Jim Crow South, the growers who exploit migrant farm laborers, the agribusiness interests that squeeze and impoverish small farmers or the corporate mentality that suppresses women with a glass ceiling, the parallels are pointedly exact.

Labor unions, suffragists, feminists, civil rights advocates, small farmers and farm workers all struggle against the rich, the powerful and the corporate interests who intend to control the economy and maintain their notion of social class. The labor movement was, and still is, a reflection of society. They challenged the idea, that power and money are the trump card.

Everyone, owes a debt to the laborers. Those who often put their lives on the line, for safe work places, an eight hour work day, a five day work week, insurance, disability benefits, a fair wage, dignity and respect for manual labor.

Labor Day is a day to celebrate the power of the worker, but no less the social movements that evolved with and from the unions. It is also a day to reflect on how we can do better, for everyone.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Sparling September 7, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Today we see the republican fat cat multinational corporations closer to their dream of reverting back to child labor and sweat shops than ever before. Unions of course were a good idea at the beginning but like congress, developed into private club status where only those on top befitted. Amazing to watch as the conservative right blames everything on the democrats and absolves the Cheney-Bush gang of any fault in today’s economy.

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avatar Ron September 8, 2009 at 11:36 am

Dave,
The U.S.A. is actually a one-party system, with 2 right wings: Democrats and Republicans. The DP is every bit as much bought and paid for by your ‘fat cat multinational corporations’ as is the RP. The RP program is “eat cake” and the DP program is “bread & circuses”. Both are all about the fat cats maintaining control.

Your remarks about the unions lacks grounding in historical reality. There has ALWAYS been — as long as we have had unions — a ‘labor aristocracy’ that looks out more for itself than for the millions of ordinary union members. There has ALWAYS been internal tensions and struggles within the unions. Nothing has changed. There are constantly reform movements coming up within the unions, and pressure from the ordinary members to steer their unions toward working on OUR priorities, not those of the labor faker ‘leaders’.

Want to tap into all of that? Many places to start. Try IWW’s website & links at http://www.iww.org/en/node and Community Labor News at http://clnews.org/

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Ron – I’ve seen your comments and I usually agree with them. But here you’re making a traditional left-wing mistake. I know you are aware of the historic error because in past comments you have railed against the very mistake I’m talking about: equating our two main political parties as one – different wings of the same capitalist bird. This is just what the German left did in the years before Hitler took absolute control over that country. German leftists equated the Social Democratic Party with Hitler’s party of National Socialism, describing them as the same bird and even went so far as to analyze that the Social Democrats were the most dangerous – and thus the German left attacked the “liberal” party – and set the stage for their own annihilation.

So when you say that the US is a “a one-party system with 2 right wings” you’re making this same error that the German left did in the 1920s and 30s. Because it leads you down the wrong path. You fail to understand the complexity of the Democratic Party and what it is. Your analysis would have us fighting Obama as well as the right-wingers equally. This will lead to failure and cripple our ability to form an anti-authoritarian movement against the real threats to our democracy.

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avatar mr fresh September 8, 2009 at 12:40 pm

wow. a wobblie. (ron=IWW) thought they went out with dial telephones. in any case, frank is right.

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avatar Dave Sparling September 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Ron I have to lean toward Frank on this issue. I believe the union bosses grew into corrupt greedy people just the same way congress did over the years. It is just way to depressing for this old man to believe this country started with the rotten gang of greed merchants we now have.

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 8, 2009 at 3:35 pm

All,

Politicians are lawyers, and lawyers are thieves (present company excluded, of course).

It makes no difference what liar and thief runs the country. Some will love him/her and others will detest him/her. He/she will make some good decisions and he/she will make some bad decisions.

Being Commander in Chief does not make you a super hero of any sort. So, you see, you are all buying into the big lie so that you spend your time arguing what thief and liar is better instead of merely living your life.

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avatar Ron September 8, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Frank,

The Social Democrats in the 1930s in Germany were a variety of self-described SOCIALISTS. The Democratic Party in the U.S.A. has never been that. Comparing these two parties, the way you have, is wrong.

What the left does need to do, and it does have some bearing on your point about being sensitive to shades of grey, to complexities, is IGNORE what political party a working person says they belong to. Working people are by far the majority of society and regardless of political or religious or other self-identity a person may have, chances are pretty good the person will agree that s/he does NOT want to take a wage cut; does NOT want to have health care benefits taken away; does NOT want their rent to double next month. Go through a long list of everyday basic concerns we all have, and the profound reality is that working people actually agree about more than we disagree about.

The left and working people need to be self-organized and need to have a coherent conversation with all working people, to push forward OUR common agenda, no matter what snake oil vendor a person is currently buying his/her ideological stuff from. You are right that it would be idiotic to treat the Democratic Party in exactly the same way as we treat the Republicans. It would also be idiotic for anybody to put their faith in the Democratic Party. Both parties are instruments of the corporate elite, and both deserve (and require) constant pressure to stop doing horrible things (like wars of empire still raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere) and constant pressure to do more of the right things (like Medicare for All).

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avatar Frank Gormlie September 8, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Ron, appreciate your attempt to reconcile differences. I agree with about 85-90% of your latest comment. And the important thing for progressives, Democrats, trade unionists, is to find ways to WORK TOGETHER even if we disagree. (sorry mr fresh – he hates caps).

Where we disagree is our analysis of the Democratic party and its supporters and camp-followers. There is a left and right within the DP – and the left within it sees us – the non-DP activist network- as natural allies – unless we trash them to such a degree that they write us off. Major union leaders work within the DP and I don’t think you’d want to alienate them (unless of course we’re talking SEIU Int’l). We will not be able to work with that left if they can’t stand us because we diss everything they think is important.

Plus you act like there is no other differences between the GOP and the DP. There are plenty. I’ll name one: Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor.

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avatar Ron September 11, 2009 at 11:49 am

Frank,

Saying both the DP and the RP are instruments of the corporate elite is not the same as acting like there is no differences between them. Progressives (regardless of affiliation) need to lend support or opposition to issues and proposals wherever they come from, as needed.

An example of why working people and the left need to be self-organized (and not loyal to the DP or any other party) is the fact that a very large percentage of UNION members in San Diego County are registered as members of the Republican Party. They support a pro-worker agenda on issues of contract standards, labor legislation, and many other ways, to a point. They aren’t pushing for workers to convert the major corporations into democratic institutions run by the workers. But, we can (and do) work together in our unions, regardless of political party membership.

Most people who vote DP or vote RP do NOT have much understanding of how “their” party functions, who runs it, and what its real record is on the majority of issues. Most voters are working people, with their heads full of corporate TV, radio, and print “news” that leaves out most of what is really going on in the world and constantly reinforces the lie that capitalism and democracy are the same thing and that no better world (without corporate capitalist ‘vampires’) can seriously be imagined.

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Ron,

Your description of people that vote D or R “just because” sounds like the same people who devote their lives to religions that they do not fully understand.

It seems to be a defect in the human species. They blindly bumbling through life as others see fit.

I have always searched for some sort of undeniable difference between the two parties we get to pick from, but cannot.

Then, when my neighbor did not vote for the person she wanted to win (he was in no way going to win by popular vote) because she would be “throwing her vote away” it made me really think. Right in front of me stood an American voter that did not vote how she really wanted to, but voted for one of the two gentlemen that were obviously going to be president.

I found that really sad.

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avatar jon September 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Wow Shawn, That’s the most coherent and insightful comment I’ve seen fom you in months. The dispensary must have given you some good stuff! ;)

I have been stuck in similar situations in the past. Like voting for Kerry just to vote against Bush, even though Kerry was no peach. It can leave you feeling quite disenfranchised as a voter when you find yourself in that type of situation. This whole two-party system is just as whack as our healthcare system.

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 11, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Jon,
I am totally gay for you now, and want a mustache ride to legal gay marriage right after I show you faggots how to smoke weed outside of your closets.
I get my evaluation tomorrow. I am unsure if insomnia is a valid reason when doctors prescribe me pharmaceutical sleeping pills and sedatives, but please feel free to visit me in my hospice as my caretaker allows.

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 11, 2009 at 11:18 pm

bah. your site is made of weaksauce:

This was not included because of obrag=fail

<<>

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm

houston..we have a problem

If I use > or < post fail

must….

hold…..

on……

cannot….

reach………

bong…..

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 11, 2009 at 11:22 pm

I am drowning here you morons….

plz save me…fuk

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avatar Shawn Conrad September 11, 2009 at 11:23 pm

greater than ort les tha nhas declared jihad on obrag.org and you sons a bitches are are Winston’s…

o

the

umanity

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avatar mr fresh September 12, 2009 at 9:55 am

don’t worry shawn, the authorities have been called. hope you get a life after they finish the psych eval. don’t eat the brown acid, man.

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