In most of the world, “Labour Day” as a September holiday is unknown. Only in America is the first Monday in September celebrated as “Labor Day“. May 1st is historically a holiday declared in honour of workers and labour rights. Although May Day started in The United States, its observance in the US is notably absent.
Labor Day in the US became a holiday in 1894, when it was instituted by President Grover Cleveland. May Day was inaugurated after a number of workers were killed by US marshals and soldiers during a Pullman strike.September Labor Day was chosen to be a less politically controversial alternative to May 1, which was chosen by the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre It should be noted that the Haymarket massacre actually occurred on May 4. In all probability, its closeness to May 1 probably made it desirable to fudge the date by three days. Before it became a worker’s holiday, May 1 was simply a celebration of spring.
The Haymarket Massacre in Chicago happened after someone through a bomb at a demonstration that was by labour organisers to show solidarity with striking workers. In the chaos that followed,eight policemen were killed, most of them by friendly fire. The government hanged 4 men who were known to be anarchists for the Haymarket Square violence. In a blatantly political trial, more time was spent cross examining them about their views than about the crimes of which they were accused. In addition to the 4 men who were hung, one of the accused committed suicide in prison.
May 1st, in contrast to the September Labor Day celebrated in America ,memorialises the struggle of workers to claim a reasonable share of the fruits of the industrial revolution.Unions, although they are intended to be a way to safeguard workers’ rights, unfortunately tend to be adversarial in their approach to labour relations. Other approaches to labour issues could probably work at least as well.
Today in America,we havelost most of our manufacturing jobs. The workers who produce durable goods are in Asia and South America . In practical terms, America’s working class is really overseas.
It is common to pat ourselves on the back for instituting minimum wage and a 40 hour work week. In spite of this this, millions of American workers need to work well over forty hours at two or more jobs. Additionally, the real value of wages is eaten away by inflation.
The process of spreading the benefits of industrialisation to a majority of the people took decades. Social and political struggle combined with enlightened self interest by bosses into the development of a fairer distribution of wealth across all classes of people.
These struggles are not only a part of our history. They lie in front of us as well. The cyber revolution, and globalization have improved our lives in many ways. Despite this, people have been hurt by these changes as well. Factory positions, customer service and computer programming work have been outsourced to developing countries with far lower wages than those paid to American workers. In a real sense, we have many of the same problems that America had in the late 19th century.
How can we make streamlined production benefit workers as well as business owners? When farmers find that find that the price of wheat won’t even pay the costs of producing it, is seen to be a major problem. Workers are also selling a commodity. They are no less entitled to a fair profit than are farmers.
Are unions the only way to arbitrate labour relations issues? Are they even the best way to advocate for workers? It has often been argued that unions create a whole new set of problems to replace the ones they solved.
American Labor Day was designed to a distraction from some of the troubling issues evoked by the original May 1 Worker’s Day. When celebrating American Labor Day, it is impossible to forget the original and far more historically resonant Labor Day on May 1. Whatever gains American workers have made, there is a long road ahead, much of which involves recovering lost ground.