Here in the U.S. we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September. Throughout much of the rest of the world, Labor Day is May 1. The U.S. changed that because international labor movements, especially communists, celebrated the day (remember the annual parade of missiles and tanks in the old Soviet Union’s Red Square?); U.S. politicians wanted there to be no confusion that the U.S. doesn’t endorse communism. September honors America’s early union movement appropriately, too — the first Labor Day parade in New York City was on September 5, 1882.
America has much good labor history to celebrate, however, and we should make more of it. Textbooks we have in Texas classrooms tend to shortchange the labor movement, and especially the notable social gains made because of labor in wages, benefits like health care and vacations, civil rights, etc. Teachers need to supplement labor history offerings to keep kids up with Texas standards.
Memphis Sanitation Workers, striking in 1968, for suitable wages and treatment as human beings. It was in support of this strike that Martin Luther King, Jr., was in Memphis when he was assassinated. Photo by Richard L. Copley, from Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library’s I AM A MAN exhibit. You can sponsor a traveling version of this exhibit.
Wonderful materials are available, and the history of labor is rich with gripping stories, outstanding music, touching photographs, and the human interest that makes history worthwhile, and interesting.
Michigan in Pictures has a post commemorating the 1936-1937 Flint, Michigan, sit-down strike by General Motors employees. Several useful links come out of that post, too, including one to the HistoricalVoices.org feature on the strike, with audio.
The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) shows concern for current workers on Labor Day 2006. There are links to historical sources, too.
My father had been a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters, working on Liberty Ships in Los Angeles during World War II. I used to fly a lot, and rare was the touchdown that I didn’t give thanks for a union to back up the airplane mechanics, pilots and other workers when they take a stand for safety.
Remember to fly your flag today.