Some thoughts on the Origins of Labor Day
Most folks probably don’t think of Labor Day as a holiday commemorating struggle & death. But that’s what it used to be.
The period between the Civil War & the Great Depression was a time of massive upheaval: The industrial revolution swept in, & millions of Americans were forced to leave their farms & move to cities in search of work in the newly-formed rail, steel, textile, & shipping industries.
Economic policymaking was ad hoc & primitive. Massive recessions regularly created mass poverty & threw enormous numbers of people out of work. The rules, both legal & social, were still being formed for how employers could treat employees, & how the wealth they all collectively produced would be distributed.
Inequality soared to enormous heights by the end of the period. The minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, laws against child labor, & more were only instituted after pitched political combat. Unions were growing as the one avenue by which workers could fight for their interests, & the economy saw waves of regular strikes & work stoppages that would be unheard of today.
Sometimes, the battles were literal: Employers & politicians were not shy about busting unions with police forces & hired enforcers. Riots, deaths, & bombings were not uncommon.
The first inklings of America’s Labor Day took shape in 1882, when the Central Labor Union (CLU) met in September in New York City for a labor festival. Peter McGuire, a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), who was inspired by a parade in Toronto in 1872 in support of a strike against 58-hour work weeks may have been the 1st to propose the idea of a ‘Labor Day’. Other research points to Matthew Maguire, a machinist & member of the Knights of Labor. But somehow or another, the idea for a parade & yearly holiday to honor American workers was hatched.
The first parade of the new project was held in Manhattan on Sept. 5, 1882. It started out small, but then a band showed up, & workers’ groups from various industries began to flow in. Eventually the parade swelled to 10,000. After that initial success, various state & municipal governments began naming an official day to commemorate labor.
Then a massive recession hit in 1893. The job losses were devastating — & the frustration crystallized in a nationwide strike against the Pullman Company, a railroad car manufacturer & founder of one of the most infamous company towns in America, keeping the workers in appalling living conditions.
Railroad baron George Pullman created his eponymous town in 1880 just outside Chicago. It was a model of capitalist feudalism, with workers offered housing in line with their position in the company. Residents worked for Pullman’s company & their rent was automatically docked from their paychecks. They even had to bank at Pullman’s crooked bank. But Pullman’s business plummeted when the recession hit. Hundreds were laid off & wages were deeply cut — yet rents in the town did not decline.
In response, 4,000 of Pullman’s workers went on strike on May 11, 1894. On June 26, the American Railroad Union — led by Eugene V. Debs — called for a supporting boycott. One hundred & fifty thousand railway workers in 27 states joined the strike, refusing to operate Pullman rail cars. The massive halt to the rail industry & the interruption of U.S. mail cars set off a national crisis. Congress & President Grover Cleveland, looking to save face, rushed through a bill declaring Labor Day a national holiday. Cleveland signed it on June 28, 1894. He was backed by the AFL — the more conservative portion of the labor movement — which threw the first official Labor Day parade that year.
But it was a brutally ironic gesture. Six days later, under pressure from the furious leaders of the rail industry, & facing the virtual shutdown of U.S. mail trains, Cleveland invoked the Sherman Antitrust Act to declare the stoppage a federal crime. He sent in 12,000 federal troops to break the strike. Days of fighting & riots ensued, as strikers overturned & burned railcars, & the troops responded with violent crackdowns. Over 30 workers were killed before the strikers were dispersed & the trains restarted.
Debs was sent to prison, where he read Marx for the first time, setting him on the path to becoming arguably America’s most famous socialist.
Cleveland & others picked the September date for Labor Day as a kind of alternative to May Day, which had by then arisen as the principal day of celebration for workers’ movements around the world. On May 1, 1886, over 250,000 workers struck in Chicago, shutting down 13,000 businesses to demand a shorter work week for equal pay. After several days of peaceful protest, an ‘unknown assailant’ threw a bomb at police in Haymarket Square on May 4. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing scores of people.
So it’s understandable that many on the left view Labor Day as a cynical ploy — a lazy apolitical three-day weekend, which distracts from the remembrance of when workers fought & died for the basic human decency of a shorter work week.
But you could also look at Labor Day as a remembrance of a time when the labor movement was a force to be reckoned with. Since the heyday of the New Deal, American membership in labor unions has collapsed. Millions of workers in modern service industries face capricious employment, low pay, & dismal conditions. Inequality has returned to its pre-Great-Depression levels, & the shared prosperity of the era immediately after the New Deal is a distant memory. Even the 40-hour work week is falling by the wayside.
All of which makes Labor Day ripe for reclaiming, in the name of some long-unfinished business.
RUDOLF STEINER’S CALENDAR OF THE SOUL
translated (with added titles) by Roy Sadler
AUTUMN PRELUDE III
The Yield Of Summer
In autumn haze
the senses’ lure fades;
a mist arising veils
the light’s revealing.
In widths of space I see
the autumn landscape fall asleep;
the summer’s yielded me
her being, and I reap.
In this week’s mirror verse, for the Celtic Wise Woman festival at Samhain
[‘Summer’s End’], the summer’s being begins to shine as the sun of the soul.
In sunlight of my soul
ripe fruits of thought arise;
all feeling turns to sureness
I joy to sense
the autumn’s rousing of the spirit;
within me will the winter wake
the summer of the soul.
5 September 2021 – “Speaking with the Stars”
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Deathday of Nathanael (Hebrew נתנאל, “God has given”) of Cana in Galilee, a disciple of Jesus Christ, mentioned in the Gospel of John in Chapters 1 & 21.
Jesus immediately characterizes him as “an Israelite in whom is no deceit”. Steiner said this is a reference to the fact that Nathanael had been initiated & had received the title “The Israelite.” Jesus’ quote: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”, shows their connection in the super-sensible world.
Deathday of Gaius Marius Victorinus, born in Africa he became a Roman rhetorician & Neoplatonic philosopher. He translated 2 of Aristotle’s books from ancient Greek into Latin: The Categories & On Interpretation
Deathday of Zacharias the Prophet, father of John the Baptist. He performed the priest’s office in Jerusalem during the reign of Herod. The Lord appeared before him, standing on the right side of the altar & said “Fear, not Zacharias,” assuring him that his prayer was well pleasing & it had inclined God to a great act of mercy. The Archangel Gabriel then visited Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth who had long been barren & told her that she would give birth to a son who would be called John, whose name signifies grace.
Zacharias said to the angel, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well stricken in years.” The angel answered, “I am Gabriel, that stands in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shall be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things be performed, because thou believes not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”
Then the prophecy was fulfilled & John was born, & after Zacharias had written John’s name on a writing tablet, his mouth was filled with the Holy Spirit, his tongue was loosed, & he spoke, praising God.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem & the Magi came from the East, they told Herod of the newborn king. Herod sent soldiers to slay all the children in Bethlehem, he especially remembered hearing about the miraculous birth of John. “What manner of child shall this be? Will this child be the King of the Jews?” He decided to kill John. The executioners could not find them, but the slaughter of innocents began.
When Elizabeth heard these cries, she took John & fled into the mountains. When she saw soldiers drawing near, she prayed to God & cried out to the rocky mount nearby and said, “O mountain of God, receive a mother and her child!” Immediately the mountain was split & she entered hiding herself & John from the executioners.
The soldiers returned to Herod, having not found the child, & Herod sent word to Zacharias in the temple saying, “Surrender your son John to me.” Saint Zacharias replied, “You will kill my body, but the Lord will receive my soul.” The executioners straightway fulfilled Herod’s command & fell upon Zacharias between the temple & the altar. His blood was spilt on the floor & became hardened like rock as a witness against Herod & a testimony to Zacharias.
My POD (Poem Of the Day)
~the barley grows in straight rows,
the stalks unfurl following their divine purpose…
Truth rides visibly thru the world
Have you not seen it?
Drink in the light & praise the cup of forever
spilling out the golden flow of eternity…
Let grace roll down your head like holy oil
warmed in the hands of SHE…
Greetings kindred souls – This year for the APO fund raiser I plan to hold a Dance-A-Thon & Biodynamic Prep-stir on Friday 24 September 2021 at the Rudolf Steiner Branch of the Anthroposophical Society in America – Chicago 7 pm – 9 pm
Featuring Waldorf alum DJ Grapefruit Effect & Circle’s Edge with Ultra-Violet Archer
It’s also a potluck community gathering, so please bring food & drink to share – Along with your donation to this amazing program.
We also plan to read some poetry from some of the inmates who are working with Anthroposophy!
If you live out of town you can dance in your neck of the woods in solidarity with us. Please show your generous support…
Xox ~hag, firstname.lastname@example.org
Festival Gathering: Tuesday 28 September on the eve of Michaelmas with Rev’s Jeana Lee & Victoria Capon
Meeting The Dragon With Our Four Fold Being – A talk and collaborative sculptural creation
Potluck at 5:30
Talk at 7pm
At the Rudolf Steiner Branch, 4249 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
Bring Food & drink for the potluck & a found objects to help build the dragon!
Then our inspiration can come to life through our collaboration.
Jeana Lee was recently ordained as a priest of the Christian Community Movement for Religious Renewal and sent to the congregation in Chicago. Previously she taught chemistry and math at Green Meadow Waldorf high school. She enjoys swimming in the lake and is interested in questions of sin and redemption.
Victoria Capon hails from the east coast and is new to Chicago. Before attending seminary she taught at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod. Now she is happily settling into serving the chicago CC congregation and exploring the Windy City
Come & build with us
Join us at the Rudolf Steiner Branch in Chicago
- 1st make sure you are registered at https://www.anthroposophy.org/fallconference and have indicated that you will be attending in person at the RSBranch Chicago.
- Then Register by October 1st with the Chicago Branch using PayPal (this requires that you have a PayPal account of your own).
- Register and write a check and it mail by October 1st to: Rudolf Steiner Branch, Attn: Jenny Doty 4249 N Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL 60618
Details for the in-person conference:
- $75 will cover the expenses for facilities, 3 lunches and 3 dinners, snacks, and printing.
You will enjoy a pre-AGM dinner on Thursday Oct. 7 Doors open at 5 pm (AGM starts promptly at 6:3opm CT)
Lunch and Dinner on Fri.and Sat.
and Lunch post-conference on Sunday.
As well as Snacks/Coffee-Tea during the breaks.
- $40 will cover only the bare expenses – no meals
- Be a Master Builder Patron for $100 or more, to help pay for the tech costs!
- For any other questions, please contact Jenny Doty at email@example.com