This weekend is Labor Day Weekend in the United States. It is a public holiday on the first Monday of September. The holiday is to celebrate the American labor movement and its contribution to the Untied States. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. While you are enjoying your BBQ, picnics, and other end of summer celebrations take a moment and remember the workers and activist who helped shape America’s work force. Here are 5 Historically Important Sites to the American Labor Movement.
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Martinsburg Shops, Martinsburg, West Virginia
On July 14, 1877, the United States first national strike occurred. The rail workers of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad went on strike in Martinsburg, West Virginia. They were protesting a cut in wages. In the Martinsburg shops, the worked blocked the rail station. Over the next 45 days, the strike would spread to four other states and take federal troops to break-up.
Haymarket Square, Chicago, Illinois
The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions wanted make the 8-hour work day standard on May 1, 1886. Most companies refused to comply. This set off a series of labor strikes throughout the United States. One of the most significant was the lock out at McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant in Chicago. During the protest of May 3, 1886, the rally got out of hand and the police fired on the protesters. The next day, May 4, local anarchist held a rally in Haymarket Square. Local union leaders addressed the assembled crowd. Shortly after the third speaker, the local police arrive to disperse the crowd. A bomb was thrown at the officers killing 7 officers. The crowd and officers exchanged gunfire killing 4 protests and injuring hundreds. Several leaders where tried and hanged for the bombing.
The date for International Workers’ Day was selected as May 1 to commemorate the Haymarket affair. United States President Glover Cleveland selected the first Monday in September rather than May 1 to prevent the national holiday from being glorified by the anarchist and overshadowed by the affair.
Homestead, Pennsylvania, United States
The iron workers of Homestead Steel Works organized a strike against mill after a wage increase was denied and collective bargaining failed. The local labor union and Knights of Labor worked to develop the strike in an organized and purposeful manner not seen in previous large-scale strikes. The strike ran from June 30, 1892 to July 6, 1892. On July 6, Pinkerton agents and the state militia arrived to break up the strike.
Brown Building, Manhattan, New York City
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top three floors of the Brown Building. The fire occurred in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Workers in the factory were unable to escape the blaze due to management having locked the exits. Over 140 people died in one of the US’s deadliest industrial disasters. The fire brought to light the working conditions and lead to improved factory safety standards and better-working conditions.
Arcade Building, Chicago, Illinois
On May 11, 1894, the American Railway Union led a nationwide strike against the Pullman Company. The strike was due to recent wage cuts. The strike shut down much of the nation’s railways. The conflict began in the Southside of Chicago and spread to many other states. The strike was broken up by court orders as well as the US Marshals and Army. There were several small clashes between workers resulting in about 30 deaths. The event helped pass the legislation that created the national holiday of Labor day.