Monday, September 07, 2009

It’s Labor Day

Ever wonder how America got a holiday like Labor Day? After all, Labor, in America has been very much the underdog even in its heyday.

Labor unions, while still important in urban centers, have waned in strength nearly everywhere else.

So how did such a day become a holiday celebrated in 50 states?

It all started in Canada.

During a particularly difficult time in their history in 1872, known as the “Nine-hour movement,” an effort to limit the workday to nine hours, Canadian unionists fought hard to gain concessions from capitalists. The movement itself was a failure in that it did not attain its goals, but it did result in the passage of the Canadian Trade Union Act which legitimized unions and protected union activity.

Parades that were once protests against ill-treatment by management became parades in celebration of passage of the Trade Union Act.

And they became an annual thing.

These parades spread to New York, which held its first labor parade on September 5th 1882.

A short 2 years later, in the aftermath of the deaths of workers at the hands of federal soldiers and US Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland took a page from the Canadian government playbook and pushed through a law proclaiming the first Monday in September as Labor Day. The bill passed 6 days after the end of the strike.

The 1884 Labor Day proclamation bill then, was literally written with the blood of Canadian and American workers.

And I find it particularly poignant, at this moment in history, that we Americans are again poised to adopt another Canadian tradition, something that they hold very near and dear to their hearts, despite what the healthcare and pharmaceutical lobby directed rightwing shrieking handwringers will tell you.

Yet another good idea from our neighbors to the north: Universal Health Care.

Leading me to wonder, for the umpteenth time, what is it in our history that has us so diverged from our Canadian neighbors?

I suspect you could write an entire book on that one.

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