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The Real History of Labor Day

September 4, 2011
By

The revolution will not be televised because it is all ready being televised. As we approach yet another Labor Day the beleaguered and beguiled will not hear an inkling of what this holiday really means or what it represents in the American landscape. Instead the mislead multitudes will be entertained with fireworks and patriotic music, backyard barbeques, beer and maybe a day off from work. Ah, yes, America loves it workers; so much, that sometimes it has to kill them.

On January 13, 1874 as unemployed workers demonstrated in New York’s Tomkins Square Park, a detachment of New York mounted police charged into the crowd wielding billy clubs, beating indiscriminately men, women and children and leaving hundreds wounded. The New York police commissioner later commented, “It was the most glorious sight I ever saw…”

June 21, 1877, ten coal mining labor activists known as Molly Maguires were hanged in Pennsylvania. The men were tried on trumped up charges in a state government run by coal money. The state was sending a message of freedom to its beloved workers: shut up, do as your told, don’t try to unionize or else! Ah yes, that blessed freedom that we hear so much about as men are being dragged away to be executed.

July 14, 1877, Baltimore railroad unions called for a national general strike to protest wage cuts. In support on July 23 railroad workers and street car workers walked off the job in Chicago. President Hayes called the event an insurrection and called out federal troops to put down the strike. On July 25th German furniture workers striking in support were confronted by police at 10:30 in the morning and clashed in a running battle which ensued for hours. In the end thirty workers were shot dead and over a hundred were wounded. None of the policeman were killed, but thirteen were wounded in this display of American freedom.

The courage of unarmed men who charge a line of well armed men for a principle is the epitome of valor. When government shoots down its citizens in the street it is a public admission that any references to liberty and freedom are nothing more than pale illusions; an admission by government that their power is exerted from gun barrels alone.

I’ll skip the already famous Haymarket bombing and subsequent state sponsored conviction and the execution-murder of four scapegoats in Chicago in favor of a lesser known police massacre to the north of the windy city.

On May 1, 1886 two thousand Polish workers walked off their jobs in Milwaukee to protest ten hour days. They marched through the city calling for other workers to join them. By afternoon all but one factory in town was shut down as sixteen thousand protestors gathered at Rolling Mills. The Wisconsin Governor in response to workers demands for an eight hour day called out the state militia to enforce the freedom of factory owners to exploit America’s beloved working people.

On the morning of May 5th the state militia marched to Rolling Mills and with the express orders of the Governor of Wisconsin in their pocket, opened fire on protestors armed with only sticks and stones. Seven strikers died instantly and eight more died within twenty-four hours. The Milwaukee Journal reported that the governor should be commended for his quick action in the matter. Fox News is
nothing new in America; it is only a new and improved voice of the corporate shill, a shill whose hands are steeped in blood and whose pockets are filled with silver, hoarse from calling for Barabbas and encouraging the mob to call for Barabbas too.

November 23, 1887 The Louisiana Militia, assisted by bands of “prominent citizens”, shot at least 35 unarmed Black sugar workers striking to gain a dollar-per-day wage, and then lynched two strike leaders. Yes, God bless America where “prominent citizens” can shoot down and lynch workers for trying to obtain even subsistence wage.

July 6, 1892 Pinkerton guards opened fire on striking Carnegie steel mill workers in Homestead Pennsylvania. The company was trying to break the strike by using scab labor and after the shooting, a riot ensued and three Pinkerton guards were set upon and beaten by a mob of townspeople. In the end, seven Pinkerton’s and eleven strikers and spectators were shot to death.

In 1894, after the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago cut workers wages by 25 percent, 3,000 workers formed a committee and asked George Pullman for rent and price concessions in company stores and company housing; Mr. Pullman refused to even meet with the committee. The workers then went out on strike over the wage cuts and 16 hour days. After five weeks the American Railway Union announced that if the Pullman Company had not begun negotiations with the Pullman workers by June the 26th the ARU would refuse to switch any train with a Pullman car attached to it.

When the Pullman Company refused, the ARU switchmen went out on strike and the railroads answered by firing the switchmen. In short order rail traffic in the city of Chicago virtually ceased. In response, U.S. attorney General Richard Olney issued a federal injunction known as the omnibus injunction which prevented ARU officials from, “compelling or inducing by threats, intimidation, persuasion, force or violence, railway employees to refuse or fail to perform duties…”. The omnibus injunction forbade any contact by union leadership with union membership. Freedom of association? Freedom of speech? Constitutional rights?

President Grover Cleveland then sent in federal troops to put down the strike despite the pleas of the Illinois governor not to aggravate the situation. On July 4th, Independence Day, federal troops escorting a train encountered strikers manning barricades. Over the next few days the crowds increased until on July the 7th the violence escalated as federal troops fired into a crowd killing twelve men and wounding dozens of others.

The strikers then went on a rampage burning over seven hundred rail cars in the south Chicago switching yard and the Pullman Company never addressed the first employee grievances of 25 percent wage cuts or 16 hour days. Eugene Debs, the leaders of the American Railway Union was arrested and jailed.

“If it is a fact that after working for George M. Pullman for many years you appear two weeks after your work stops, ragged and hungry, it only emphasizes that the charge I made before this community, and Pullman stands before you a self-confessed robber….The paternalism of Pullman is the same as the self-interest of a slave-holder in his human chattels. You are striking to avert slavery and degradation.” -Eugene Victor Debs

It was after the Pullman Strike that the Congress and the President, after siding whole heartedly with an industry that cuts workers pay and refuses even to speak with a committee of its workforce to hear their grievances, a government which then sends in armed federal troops in support of these corporations to once again use bloody force to secure the company’s murderous freedom against your own, then votes a national holiday for labor.

Men, women and children have died by the hundreds; they suffered in miserable hovels so that the rich and powerful could have even more. The government sides not with you but with them and against you. It continues to this day; workers rights are eroded and attacked by state governments. Candidates for high office call for the end of the minimum wage and even child labor laws. They call for the end of the EPA and the Department of Education. You get a day off, maybe, but nothing has changed really. “You are striking to avert slavery and degradation.”

The revolution will not be televised because it is all ready being televised. The news is censored and modified. Unpleasant subjects lay unexposed. Free Trade has caused the greatest economic disaster in the history of the United States, yet both political parties strongly support it and promote even more foolish trade deals. “Most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” – Aldus Huxley

Television is this century’s version of snow blindness, of being exposed to a white out, a corporate blizzard of false ideas and frozen ideals to be frostbitten until unable to feel the truth or to see the truth, to be blinded by false images, to be lied to and paying for the privilege monthly.

We are the heirs of these men and women; they have left their legacy to us because it is our legacy as well.

“I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.” – Mother Jones

“Show me the country that has no strikes and I’ll show you the country in which
there is no liberty.” – Samuel Gompers

The term “Class War” is a creation of those who wish to put you into a second class, there are no clubs or associations which ban the membership of those who are too wealthy. There are no clubs or social organizations whose purpose is to limit executive pay only those to limit workers pay.

This has been a long and twilight struggle which bursts into flame periodically. The media for obvious purposes intentionally hides and obscures the true meaning of Labor Day. A day of remembrance for the living and for the dead and a day of understanding the stark choices which are offered unto us. We are presented with a choice of liberty or slavery, a choice between a green future and a polluted future and a choice between a bright future for our children or no future at all.

“I am not afraid of the pen, or the scaffold, or the sword.” – Mother Jones

 

David Glenn Cox is a staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, The Servants of Pilate.

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