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To many, Labor Day signals the end of summer: one last chance to fire up the grill, take the boat out, or jump in the pool. It’s also one less Monday where we have to come into work, so that’s pretty sweet. What most people do not realize is that there is much more to this holiday than an excuse to crack open some beers and light meat on fire. Labor Day is a holiday with fascinating, even violent origins. In fact, if you look at the roots of the holiday, it even makes Black Friday look tame.

The Beginnings of Labor Day

The idea of Labor Day – a day set aside to honor the American worker – was first proposed in the late nineteenth century, and was a brainchild of the emerging labor unions. In fact, credit for the holiday is given to labor union leader Peter J. McGuire. The holiday was recognized by individual states starting in the late 1880s (the first state to celebrate Labor Day was Oregon, in 1887). Labor Day did not become a federal holiday until 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed congressional legislation making Labor Day a national holiday. The timing of that legislation is where things get interesting.

The Pullman Strike

The Pullman Company was a major American railway. In 1894, it drastically cut wages for its tens of thousands of employees. When a delegation of workers tried to discuss grievances with the company, all members of the delegation were immediately fired. This set off one of the largest and most notorious strikes in American history. On June 27, 1894, some 30,000 workers walked off the job. By June 29, that number had climbed to nearly 130,000. Rail traffic was nearly shutdown throughout the Midwest.

On July 3rd, President Cleveland sent federal troops to break up the strike. The strikers reacted to the military presence by rioting. In Chicago, some 6,000 workers destroyed hundreds of railcars. The violence continued to escalate. On July 7th, National Guardsmen fired into the mob, killing dozens of strikers and wounding many more. After this eruption of violence, labor leaders urged the workers to call of the strike, and the number of strikers gradually declined. By August 2nd, the Pullman Company reopened, and agreed to rehire the striking workers, provided that they pledged never to join a union.

As a conciliatory gesture toward the Labor Movement, a bill recognizing Labor Day as a national holiday was signed into law, six days after the Pullman Strike ended.

We Appreciate Our Team

In the spirit of Labor Day, United Mail recognizes all of its hard-working employees, who get the job done year-round. United Mail is proud of the dedication of our staff—a dedication which is evident in the long tenure of our team members’ service. We are extremely proud that almost half of our employees have been with us for 5 years or longer, and more than a quarter have been with us for at least 10 years.

Article by Brandon Wuske