Labour Day

Today is May Day or Labour Day for a number of other countries. However like Brunei, there are a few other countries who do not observe Labour Day today. The Americans celebrate their Labour Day on the first Monday of September.

But the oberservation of the first ever Labour Day was on the first Monday in September is usually attributed to the Knights of Labor who held their first parade on September 5, 1882 in America. As the Industrial Revolution took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 1800s worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced.

With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Participants took an upaid day-off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers.

But far more important is the Haymarket Riot/Massacre of 1886. There are several interpretations of what occurred, and monuments have been constructed to both the demonstrators and the police. A reasonable summary is that the labor organizers were peacefully demonstrating for an eight hour day, an anarchist threw a bomb in to the crowd, which killed a policeman, the police killed several demonstrators and some policemen, the powers that be arrested the labor leaders.

It was in 1887 that Oregon became the first state to establish Labor Day as a holiday, which it put on the first Saturday in June. Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York observed Labor Day on the first Monday in September that year.

On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. They sought support from their union led by Eugene V. Debs and on June 26 the American Railroad Union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Within days, 50,000 rail workers complied and railroad traffic out of Chicago came to a halt.

On July 4, President Grover Cleveland dispatched troops to Chicago. Much rioting and bloodshed ensued, but the government's actions broke the strike and the boycott soon collapsed. Debs and three other union officials were jailed for disobeying the injunction. The strike brought worker's rights to the public eye and Congress declared, in 1894, that the first Monday in September would be the holiday for workers, known as Labor Day.

Then in 1889, the First (Paris) Congress of the Second Socialist International selected May First as a day for international celebration of the working man, no matter what day of the week it fell on. May first was chosen in commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre which occured in Chicago in 1886. In 1894, the first Monday in September was established as a federal holiday in the United States.

Why should the American working man celebrate Labor Day in September when the workers of the world are celebrating it on May first in commemoration of American Martyrs to the labor movement? This question is clarified by the fact that May first is observed unilaterally by workers (not by management), while the September holiday is enjoyed by all, perpetuating the myth that Labor and Management are both working together.

According to critics, the proclamation of Labor Day in September in the United States can only be interpreted as an effort to isolate the working American from his colleagues around the world, and obscure the history of what Management did to Labor in Chicago in 1886. Labor Day in the United States is better described as mocking than celebrating the working man in America.

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