Labor Day Then and Now

In the midst of today’s devastating worldwide pandemic, if it was reported that the majority of Americans in the United States worked 12-hour days, 7-days a week, would you believe it? Of course not! But during the smallpox pandemic from 1877 to 1977, when 500 million lost their lives and the mortality death rate was as high as 35%, that’s exactly what happened. It was not until 1980 that the World Health Organization declared smallpox to be eradicated. 
Source: Google COVID-19 Alert

As of this writing, there are 6.13 million cases and 186,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. with a mortality death rate of 3%. As of June, 30 million lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns, and some think the real numbers are as high as 40 million.
Source: Wall Street Journal

What is startling about these numbers is the resolve of the working class in the last century. Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. American workers dedicated 12 hours a day, seven days a week to their jobs just to make a living. Even children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills and factories to help make ends meet. 

Labor Day Parade, New York City, 5 September 1882

Like the protests of today, workers protested, sometimes with violence. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers made their way to New York City to march from City Hall to Union Square — the first American Labor Day Parade. Eventually labor unions were formed to protect workers from unsafe conditions and their influence caused employers to raise pay and reduce working hours.

Today we still celebrate the American worker on the first Monday in September, thanks to the workers who stood up for fair pay for a decent day’s work, and President Grover Cleveland who signed into law Labor Day as a legal holiday.

As you celebrate this weekend with backyard BBQ’s and picnics, face masks and social distancing, think of the men, women and children whose labor inspired this holiday.