A Brief History of Labor Day (Some of It True)

President Grover Cleveland served as President of the United States of America in 1894 as the nation faced an economic panic. While Americans tightened their belts, the demand for luxury items and travel declined. In response, fat-cat president of the Pullman Palace Car Company, George Pullman, chose to hold firm on the outrageous rent he charged his workers for residing in his mandatory housing slums–while increasing employee work hours and decreasing their pay.

What followed was known as the Pullman Strike which became a nationwide conflict between labor unions and railroads. The conflict began in the town of Pullman, Illinois on May 11, and the strike effectively shut down travel west of Chicago. In solidarity, other unions went on strike and boycotted handling Pullman Cars. By June, 125,000 workers quit their jobs rather than touch anything owned by Pullman. To fill the void, railroad companies hired replacement workers, many of whom were African Americans. Racism entered into the already-charged environment.

President Grover Cleveland did what most American presidents do: he took charge. Instead of launching our nation into an unpopular war or passing reforms that most Americans don’t want, Cleveland ordered federal troops to Chicago to end the strike, constitutional authority be darned. The conflict peaked on July 6, shortly after the troops’ arrival in the city, and ended several days later.

In the end, over a dozen strikers were dead, and nearly 60 were seriously injured.

As a way of saying, “My bad for having federal officers kick the crap out of a few whiners” , President Cleveland declared the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Which is ironic, don’t you think? I mean, it’s a day when most of the country stops working. Why not have a National Day of Silence where people spend 24 hours complaining about all of the things they don’t like about the world? Or National Beer Day where all of the taverns close? Or a National Day of Peace where big countries invade smaller, less popular nations?

The business world can get in on this, too. Companies can hold a National Customer Service Day where they shut down their phone lines and push everything to the internet or “intelligent voice response” options (if you use a touch tone phone). Baseball teams can have a Fan Appreciation Day where the players stay home and watch Nascar instead of playing ball at the stadium. Or companies can celebrate National Best Idea Ever Day by launching less popular products like the iPhone 5 that not only drops calls but also sends a few hundred volts of electricity into the ear of the user.

In truth, Labor Day is good for the economy. Bored people spend money. They go to movies that no one really wants to see. They eat foods that won’t digest for a week. And they consume too much alcohol, helping both Anheuser Busch and Wyeth, the makers of Advil. And my town has something called The Last Fling, a street fair with games, rides, and entertainment. And you know what that means? Recently released convicts now have secure jobs setting up carnival rides that weigh several tons and will carry hundreds of children into a land of entertainment.

Happy LABOR DAY! Now roll over and go back to bed. You don’t have to get up until Tuesday (unless you’re a cop or hospital worker. And if you are AND you make time-and-a-half, make sure you thank a carny or bartender who made that extra income possible)…

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