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The Story Of Labor Day

Monday, September 4th, 2017

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pullman_Strike#/media/File:940721-remington-givingthemthebutt-harpersweekly.jpgHave you ever taken time to wonder why there is a holiday dedicated to people who work?

No?

Then before you get too caught up in shopping, beer and BBQ, take a minute to learn exactly where the holiday comes from.

It’s the result of an 1894 labor strike against the Pullman Company (think aspirational, luxury private railroad cars).

Engineer and industrialist George Pullman’s workers all lived in company-owned buildings. The town was highly stratified. Pullman himself lived in a mansion, managers resided in houses, skilled workers lived in small apartments, and laborers stayed in barracks-style dormitories. The housing conditions were cramped by modern standards, but the town was sanitary and safe, and even included paved streets and stores.

Then the disastrous economic depression of the 1890s struck. Pullman made a decision to cut costs — by lowering wages.

In a sense, workers throughout Chicago, and the country at large, were in the same boat as the Pullman employees. Wages dropped across the board, and prices fell. However, after cutting pay by nearly 30%, Pullman refused to lower the rent on the company-owned buildings and the prices in the company-owned stores accordingly.

Federal troops used extreme force to break the strike resulting in 30 deaths, while rioting and sabotage left 80 million dollars worth of damage in its wake.

Indiana state professor and labor historian Richard Schneirov said President Grover Cleveland’s decision to declare Labor Day as a holiday for workers was likely a move meant to please his constituents after the controversial handling of the strike. The president was a Democrat, and most urban laborers at the time were Catholic Democrats.

Congress approved (knowing their constituents would also be pleased).

Makes you wonder what the current president and congress would do.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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