Happy Labour Day (And That Is How You Should Spell It)


Labour Day in Toronto

We try to find a green angle in every holiday; Labour Day is a stretch, but there is a bit of one. All those parents keeping their kids home from school tomorrow because they might hear socialist indoctrination from the President should be sending them to school today, the ultimate socialist holiday. It is an imported holiday; the first Labour Day parade was in Toronto in 1872, after the Toronto Typographical Union staged an illegal strike in support of a 58 hour work week and better working conditions. Printers had a life expectancy of about 35 years because of the lead, the toxic inks and the high rate of accidents.

In July of 1882 Peter J. McGuire, the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor was invited to speak in Toronto at a labour festival and was impressed. He organized the first American Labor Day Parade in New York in September 1882.

(Canadian Encyclopedia and Wikipedia)

labor day new york image

Labor day, New York, 1882
Brendan Koerner in Slate gives less credit to Peter McGuire and none to Canada, but explains the politics of how it became a national holiday:

For a while, Labor Day had stiff competition from May 1. In 1884, the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared that, by May 1, 1886, the eight-hour workday should be in effect across the land. When legislators and employers failed to comply in time, the result was a general strike and the bloody Haymarket Riot in Chicago, which caused the deaths of eight police officers and led to the hangings of four labor activists.

Though May 1 became an important day for Socialists and Communists, state governments and less radical labor leaders feared that the date was too emotionally charged. In 1894, after President Grover Cleveland ordered the brutal suppression of the Pullman Strike, he realized that he had to do something to curry favor with the labor movement, which viewed him with contempt. Worried that a May 1 holiday would encourage rabble-rousing in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot, he followed the lead of several states and made the first Monday in September a federal holiday in honor of the workingman. The political maneuver didn't achieve its desired effect, however: Cleveland lost the Democratic Party's 1896 presidential nomination to William Jennings Bryan.

In the USA, May 1 is celebrated as "Loyalty Day".

So what is the green angle? Those typographers that used to have a life expectancy of 35 live a little bit longer now, thanks perhaps in part to the labor movement that demanded better working conditions and shorter hours. Printing is a lot greener than it was.

UPDATE: A commenter noted that "This is a holiday about social justice which is inseparable from environmental justice." Of course- one could draw a direct line from battles for decent working conditions in North America to the struggles today to do the same around the world.

Related Content on Treehugger.com