Ask any citizen how Memorial Day began and most have the right answer: The federal holiday dates back to the end of the Civil War and is held today to remember all soldiers who have died while serving in the U.S. military.
Although Memorial Day is a somber holiday with millions of citizens visiting and decorating cemeteries and memorials, it also marks the end of the school year. The holiday has also become the official kick off for the summer vacation season in the U.S., and many commemorate the day with a family barbecue.
But ask any citizen how Labor Day began and a clear answer doesn’t come as easily. The federal holiday that was held Monday also has roots in the 19th century, and like Memorial Day, was inspired by the loss of American lives. Those losses, however, didn’t occur in war.
During the late 1800s, history tells of attempts by labor unions and labor organizations to establish a national holiday to recognize the contributions of laborers in America. Also, thousands of workers across the U.S. had begun to protest over long workdays, abysmal work conditions, poor pay and more.
Matters came to a head in 1894 during the tragic Pullman strike. In that strike, railroad traffic was stopped almost nationwide for weeks while Pullman Palace Car Company workers in Chicago protested cut wages, unfair living standards in company-mandated housing, and other grievances. With the nation’s freight delivery and railroad passenger service jeopardized, President Grover Cleveland sent troops to enforce a court order that demanded the strike to end.
With passions heated, the federal action didn’t go well. Violence erupted and scores of striking workers were killed.
The Pullman strike and the death of American workers exercising their right of free speech, is a dark time in U.S. history. Yet, it contributed to advancing the cause of American workers, who sought more power and respect at the bargaining table. It also led Cleveland and Congress in 1894 to establish the first Monday of September as a national holiday to commemorate labor’s advancements and contributions.
Over time those have come to include, to mention a few, an 8-hour workday, Social Security, paid vacations — and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which “protects the rights of employees and employers, encourages collective bargaining, and curtails certain private sector labor and management practices that can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.”
The Labor Day holiday weekend is an important federal holiday that deserves greater understanding from all of us. But like elsewhere across America, the holiday weekend is also recognized in Tooele County as the last hurrah before summer ends. If you turn to today’s Hometown section on page B1, you’ll see that many citizens and visitors enjoyed participating in summer-related events across the county.
Each photo tells a larger story about a community — although faced with high growth and urbanization — that refuses to let go of open friendliness to one and all. While many communities across America struggle to nurture a collective spirit, such struggles are widely absent here. And thankfully so.