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Labor Day 2019



Happy Contempt for Labor Day

By Mike Konopacki

Labor Day, like most of our national holidays, has lost its meaning and represents the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to be. A day to celebrate American workers is now mostly just another excuse for retailers to hold a “sale” of foreign-made goods.

At least some workers lucky enough to have jobs get a Monday off—with or without pay—but few really observe the holiday as intended. Worse, far too many are cheerleading attacks on workers, unions, jobs and our standard of living. Trump’s MAGA tribe—his blue-collar sycophants —would choke on their picnic potato salad if told the truth: Labor Day was union made.

New York City, September 5, 1882: The New York Central Labor Union organized the first Labor Day as a show of strength of its growing movement. Ten thousand workers marched from City Hall to Union Square to demand improved wages and working conditions. Twelve years later a strike by workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Illinois sparked a nationwide uprising. Protesting slashed wages and raised rents in Pullman’s company town, strikers had joined the fledgling American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, which launched a national boycott of Pullman cars. Workers throughout the country, suffering from similar deprivation, rioted and burned rail cars.

President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, dispatched 12,000 soldiers to Illinois, becoming the first president to deploy federal troops to crush labor. Debs was arrested and jailed. To appease an angry working class, Congress unanimously passed legislation to create Labor Day. Cleveland signed the law six days after his army busted the strike.

The meaning of other holidays has also escaped our right-wing brethren. At Christmas they disregard Christ’s teachings of humility, sacrifice and compassion while attending mega-churches where preachers in $1000 suits extol the virtues of prosperity theology and denounce “socialist” healthcare for the poor and sick. They watch old reruns of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” yet ignore the message of Christian charity toward the impoverished. Instead they revere the Scrooges who get rich destroying jobs. They even call them job creators and give them tax breaks.

Every July 4th a celebration of our independence from a distant dictator king sees another year of subordination in the workplace. Without a union, there’s no Bill of Rights at work: no freedom of speech or the press; no right to peaceably assemble or petition for redress of grievances; no equality or due process.

In 1882, Labor Day was a worker rebellion against Robber Barons. Over the next 80 years, it spawned movements to end child labor, win voting rights for women and blacks, legalize unions and build a flourishing middle class. Today average working folks are conned into coddling corporate overlords who exploit our children, disenfranchise voters, bust unions and tank our entire economy.

This Labor Day white supremacists and Trumpers will fire up their high-tariff grills from China, throw on some brats and chicken made by low-wage immigrant meatpackers, and celebrate the fact that those workers will soon be arrested and thrown into a squalid I.C.E. concentration camp.

Happy Contempt for Labor Day.

Looking back at Labor Day’s turbulent origins: By labor scholar Peter Rachleff.

History of Labor Day from the Department of Labor

Frederick Douglass on labor



One Comment

  1. Thank you, Mike Konopacki (and Frederick Douglass) for putting it as powerfully as this. Let’s fight back *every* day, not just Labor Day, until *every* day is Labor Day.

    What is puzzling — and scary — is just *why* so many Americans, including millions who stood up and “spoke truth to power” in the 1960s and 1970s, now so quiet and cowed before corrupt, out-of-control power and wealth today?

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