Home > Art, Life, Politics, Really?, Spirituality/Religion > Labor (Day) of Love

Labor (Day) of Love

sure1We have a guest commentator today:


I know — bitch, bitch, bitch — it’s not like I was out picking lettuce all day…. but it sure feels like it!

Once again, the course of current events has inspired me to learn a little more about yet another subject I assumed I knew about already, only to find out that I don’t know Shinola.

But you know what? I’m not alone. Not that this gives me comfort because it makes me realize (again) how careless we’ve gotten about learning the history of our country.

Today marks the 127th anniversary of the first Labor Day. If you don’t know about the origins of this holiday, as seemed to be the case with most people I spoke to this weekend, here’s a little info about it…

According to About.com: Many immigrants settled in New York City in the nineteenth century. They found that living conditions were not as wonderful as they had dreamed. Often there were six families crowded into a house made for one family. Thousands of children had to go to work. Working conditions were even worse. Immigrant men, women and children worked in factories for ten to twelve hours a day, stopping only for a short time to eat. They came to work even if they were tired or sick because if they didn’t, they might be fired. Thousands of people were waiting to take their places.

When Peter Maguire was 17, he began an apprenticeship in a piano shop. This job was better than his others, for he was learning a trade, but he still worked long hours with low pay. At night he went to meetings and classes in economics and social issues of the day. One of the main issues of concern pertained to labor conditions. Workers were tired of long hours, low pay and uncertain jobs. They spoke of organizing themselves into a union of laborers to improve their working conditions. In the spring of 1872, Peter McGuire and 100,000 workers went on strike and marched through the streets, demanding a decrease in the long working day.

This event convinced Peter that an organized labor movement was important for the future of workers’ rights. He spent the next year speaking to crowds of workers and unemployed people, lobbying the city government for jobs and relief money. It was not an easy road for Peter McGuire. He became known as a “disturber of the public peace.” The city government ignored his demands. Peter himself could not find a job in his trade. He began to travel up and down the east coast to speak to laborers about unionizing. In 1881, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and began to organize carpenters there. He organized a convention of carpenters in Chicago, and it was there that a national union of carpenters was founded. He became General Secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

The idea of organizing workers according to their trades spread around the country. Factory workers, dock workers and toolmakers all began to demand and get their rights to an eight-hour workday, a secure job and a future in their trades. Peter McGuire and laborers in other cities planned a holiday for workers on the first Monday in September, halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day.

And so, on September 5, 1882 the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City and 20,000 workers marched in a parade up Broadway. Within two years, with President Grover Cleveland’s blessing, Congress declared it a federal holiday.

Today, as others went about enjoying their hard-earned day off, I set out with my collection of sidewalk chalk to try to capture the essence of sacrifice that this day was intended to signify. In that first parade, some marchers carried signs that read, “Labor Creates All Wealth”.


That seemed like a timely slogan all these years later as we are in the biggest fight of my lifetime for the soul of our country. Detractors of our President, the first black man to hold the office, are accusing him of trying to create a Socialist government. I see his statements simply as a reminder to my fellow country people that we are all interdependent, that no one makes his fortune without the help of many others. Over the past several years it seems that people have grown rich without the sense of responsibility to reach down and help up those upon whose backs they’ve climbed to attain their success.

I don’t know how I’d define my own sense of what is best for our country. Certainly there are merits to all ideas, but alas, even a melting pot of civilization must come to some agreement about how to proceed. Right now, we are just an angry mix of ingredients, all insistent that our own particular flavor come through most strongly in the stew.

Tomorrow, the President will attempt to address the school children of our nation to the dismay of many who fear that he is trying to indoctrinate them into thinking the way he does.

One of the questions he plans to put forth asks the kids for their ideas about how to help him do a better job. It’s an age-old question that the youth of our nation have been trying to answer for years. But lately, there are many who find this query suspect.

What I understand about our system of democracy is that it is the responsibility of each of us as citizens to educate ourselves about the issues by listening to all sides, regardless of whether or not we agree. Only then can we form meaningful opinions and make informed decisions.

It’s remarkable how far we’ve come in 127 years. We’ve handled quantum changes in the way our system functions as new capabilities and technologies develop and we always seem to end up better off through common sacrifice and cooperation, making the organizations that ostensibly exist to fight for our rights become less necessary than they originally were. Rarely have threats and intimidation created a healthy atmosphere for growth, yet all segments seem vulnerable to becoming corrupted, even the labor movement. It’s not ideal by any means.

My hamstrings and I did our small part in helping to educate those around me about the importance of taking care of each other by supporting the efforts of EVERY citizen, regardless of creed, station, or education. To some, this  might look more like an attempt to indoctrinate the neighbors with Socialist propaganda…

Labor — hard work — does indeed create all wealth, both economic and spiritual, and I refuse to believe that any American does not want the opportunity to earn those rewards. Isn’t it time we stopped trying to knock each other off the ladder in our race to the top and start reaching out a helping hand so we can all get there someday?

  1. September 8, 2009 at 8:32 am

    I see that I inspired you, or maybe I inspired you. You’re pretty brave to do that in Red State. Good work!

  1. October 1, 2009 at 8:38 pm

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