While by now, Labor Day marks the effective end of summer, and the last hurrah of BBQ season, an article in the Huffington Post reminds us today that its roots run far deeper, and sadder than that.
The Labor Day holiday was instituted by Congress in June of 1894, in the midst of the Pullman Railway strike, in order to appease the striking workers. A federal holiday had been a longtime demand of organized labor in the US. The holiday, however, didn’t end the strike, and within a month, Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to break the standoff, resulting in dozens of deaths.
In light of this history, it’s worth considering today where labor rights in the US stand currently, and it’s not all spectacular a picture. Union membership has dropped precipitously in the past few decades. Though, John Nichols of The Nation points out,
There was a time, within the living memory of millions of Americans, when this country championed democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to organize in the same breath….For generations, Americans accepted the basic premise that labor rights are human rights. When this country counseled other countries on how to forge civil and democratic societies, Americans explained that the right to organize a trade union—and to have that trade union engage in collective bargaining as an equal partner with corporations and government agencies—had to be protected./blockquote>
So over the last glimpse of summer, over hamburgers and hot dogs, might it be time to renew the idea of labor rights as human rights as well?