The Captain Richard Phillips Lane Kirkland Maritime Trust wishes to extend its appreciation to all who labor daily to keep our Nation strong. Happy Labor Day!
Across the country, communities and families will commemorate Labor Day with parades and cook outs with little to no thought about its true meaning and origin. For many, it simply symbolizes the end of summer. But let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the true reason we have Labor Day.
Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894.
Labor Day originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters, in the late 1800s, at the pinnacle of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. The average American worked 12-hour days and seven days a week to merely scrape by with a minimal existence. Children as young as 5 often toiled in unsafe conditions, in mills, factories and mines across the country, but were paid only a fraction of adult wages. People of all ages worked these grueling hours with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
Manufacturing increasingly grew and surpassed agriculture as a source of income and livelihood, and American employees and labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew increasingly vocal. Laborers began organizing strikes and rallies to protest terrible conditions and attempt compel employers to negotiate hours and pay.
Many events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886. Several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. The first Labor Day parade in U.S. history occurred on September 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.
Congress did not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Car Company went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. On June 26, the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. The federal government responded by dispatching troops to Chicago, which unleashed a wave of riots. More than a dozen workers died.
After this massive wave of unrest, Congress sought to repair ties with American workers, and enacted legislation making Labor Day a legal holiday initially only in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill into law on June 28, 1894.
The true founder of Labor Day is not obvious and is often contested. Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, is often credited with the founding of Labor Day. Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first proposed the holiday.
We at the Phillips Kirkland Trust would be remiss not to mention the highly significant life and long decades of impact of Lane Kirkland. Beginning with service in the Merchant Marine, he later transitioned to work with specific labor issues and was a recognized innovator. His efforts in securing opportunity for American workers is well documented. But, he reached far beyond, supporting international labor efforts, such as the Solidarity movement, which eventually help to end 50 years of Communist rule in Poland. He was recognized by President Clinton and presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian award. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to his long-suffering efforts and are proud to carry his name in ours… The Captain Richard Phillips Lane Kirkland Maritime Trust.
Today the need for strong labor organizations is still a vital one and their presence is important across many industries, giving a voice to workers and helping to ensure safer working conditions and pay that is commensurate with the job. Negotiations on behalf of the union members help to provide greater equality and reduce the wage gap. Unions are diverse organizations across a diverse sector of industries, be it fishing, education, the maritime industry, or professional sports.