One hundred and forty years ago today (Sept 5th) in New York City, workers walked off their jobs. They were demanding better hours, a 5-day work week, and better working conditions, all with better pay.
Why this violence started Labor Day
Up to this point, employees, including many children, were often required to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
Supervision was harsh and punishments were handed out to those who talked or sang as they worked.
Four years later in 1886, nothing had changed so on May 1st (May Day) thousands of workers took to the streets of Chicago to demand an 8-hour work day. The riot ended on May 4th when a bomb was set off killing 7 police offers and 8 civilians.
Eight years? Still nothing?
Eight years later, in May 1894, workers went on strike to protest 16-hour workdays and low wages at the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured railroad cars in a plant near Chicago.
Members of the powerful American Railway Union (ARU) joined in, refusing to move Pullman cars.
Rail traffic across the country was crippled.
Days after the ARU joined the Pullman strike, a languishing bill to make Labor Day a national holiday was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. This was to appease the angry workers.
Cleveland also ordered federal troops to Chicago to end the boycott. Angry strikers began to riot, and National Guard troops fired into the mob, killing dozens of people.
Both Labor Day and May Day grew out of violent clashes between labor and police in the American Midwest.
Why Sept 5th and not May Day became Labor Day?
The reason September was chosen as a holiday was that May 1 was remembered as too violent. Twenty-four states had already made the first Monday in September a holiday to remember our workers. President Cleveland signed the federal holiday bill in 1894.
Still, progress was slow.
In the years that followed, company owners began to accept workers’ demands for better treatment.
Progress is slooooooow…20 years later
In 1914, Henry Ford more than doubled wages to $5 a day. When his profits doubled in two years, rivals realized he might be onto something. In 1926, he cut workers’ hours from nine to eight hours a day.
Which road are you on in your caregiving experience?
So as we celebrate today, with picnics and family gatherings I can’t help but wonder, what would happen to our senior population if 34 million caregivers walked off the job and into the street demanding an 8-hour workday, 5 days a week with pay and no stressful conditions.
Many of us are blessed to see our loved ones happy and content as we care for them. We are blessed to have those extra days and memories.
We feel that caregiving isn’t work, it brings us pure joy instead.
We consider ourselves lucky to have this person still in our lives.
And many of us feel like walking off the job but our sense of responsibility holds us back from doing such a thing. We are exhausted, overwhelmed, or frustrated. We feel alone.
So today of all days, if you find yourself…
… looking at the second option, ask yourself, “What is it I could do differently that would get me to option 1?”
I celebrate today as “Labor of Care Day” to all of you out there because even though on some days you don’t feel like doing what you do, you still rise above it and do the right thing.
And doing the right thing means you have character, courage, commitment, and confidence. You are whom we all strive to be.