Seemingly every year, some prominent conservative goes out of his way to contemptuously mock the U.S.-recognized federal holiday known as Labor Day. The general rationale for such scorn is that Labor Day came into being and, to some extent, still exists to glorify and harken us back to the once-dominant labor movements of yore. Labor Day, the narrative goes, was a capitalism-undermining governmental fabrication that bestowed unnecessary social capital and legitimacy upon the restive, and oftentimes outright violent, unionized forces of the proletariat.
It is true that sometimes, shibboleths and outmoded orthodoxies require fresh, innovative thinking. But it is also the case that the general conservative disdain for Labor Day is not a particularly good example of that. This “holiday” deserves all the derision it can possibly receive.
Simply put, Labor Day is indeed an anti-capitalism, anti-economic growth federal “holiday” born out of the ashes of the late 19th century’s societally ruinous labor movement. It is a manifestly stupid socialist “holiday” and conservatives are wholly justified to make fun of it.
While the precise origins of how Labor Day came to be recognized as a federal holiday in 1894 are subject to historical debate, it is uncontested that various cogs of Big Labor served as the driving force. According to one version of the history, Central Labor Union (CLU) Secretary Matthew Maguire first proposed the federalization of the holiday after the CLU successfully held a pan-organizational parade of labor organizations in New York City on September 5, 1882. According to a different version of the history, American Federation of Labor Vice President P.J. McGuire initially proposed the federalized holiday to the CLU as a means of publicly demonstrating and flaunting Big Labor’s institutional might.
But the Haymarket massacre of 1886 threw a wrench into Big Labor’s self-aggrandizing plot. On May 4, 1886, radical leftist anarchist forces disrupted a pro-worker labor rally in Chicago by throwing a bomb at local police. Seven police officers and four civilians paid the ultimate price, and eight committed leftist anarchists were ultimately convicted of conspiracy. Indeed, Grover Cleveland’s initial 1887 decision to campaign on a September-based Labor Day, as well as his ultimate 1894 presidential decision to sign the holiday into law, were both based on a conscientious awareness that allowing the holiday to be celebrated in May — in accordance with the venerable European tradition known as May Day — risked the perception of positively commemorating the violent, radical leftist anarchy of the Haymarket massacre.
In a nutshell, then, Labor Day was born out of violence and Big Labor intimidation. Chris Pandolfo, writing at Conservative Review two years ago, elaborated upon how even President Cleveland’s ultimate signing of the holiday into law was itself a final act of gross capitulation toward the insubordinate socialist rabble-rousers of the labor movement:
When the Panic of 1893 hit, several workers were laid off from the Pullman Car Company, while the rest suffered an average of a one-fourth wage cut. Eventually, the downtrodden and livid workers organized a strike, and to their aid quickly came the American Railway Union (ARU) and its socialist leader, Eugene V. Debs. Debs helped orchestrate a national boycott of trains carrying Pullman cars.
The strike lasted three months, from May 11 to July 11, 1894. When replacement workers (“strikebreakers”) were called in to cross the picket line, violence erupted. Riots, the pillaging of railway cars, and property destruction ensued.
But it was the interruption of postal mail delivery that really brought the strike to the federal government’s attention. President Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime — insisting that the strikers were prohibiting the government from carrying out its constitutional responsibility for mail delivery. Soon after, 14,000 federal and state troops were called upon to break up the strike.
By the strike’s end, as many as 30 people had been killed. In Chicago, lawless strikers took advantage of the violence to “rob, burn, and plunder,” leading to an estimated $80 million in property damages. Debs and the leaders of the ARU were jailed and the union dissolved.
With the nation roiling and the 1894 midterm elections approaching, Cleveland’s administration sought a way to appease the labor movement. Thus came Labor Day. The legislation was expedited through Congress and signed by the president on June 28, 1894, in the midst of the Pullman strike.
By all means, conservatives, enjoy your day off work. Enjoy your end of summer sales. Enjoy your barbecues and picnics. Enjoy your final day showcasing the sartorial delight that is seersucker before our fashion overlords deem the fabric verboten tomorrow.
But while you are enjoying yourselves today, do be aware of Labor Day’s wretched, leftist, socialist, anarchist origins. And do not hesitate to mock this remarkably silly “holiday” as much as your heart desires.