Monday, September 5, 2016

A Not Very Scholarly Look at the Origins of Labor Day

Labor exclusivity began all the way back in the 1030s with the formation of specialist guilds.  As in all of the shoe makers got together and said, "This is how we're going to make shoes and this is how much we're going to charge.  The lace makers thought this was a good idea and so did the silversmiths.  As more and more specialists in the arts of living popped up, guilds became a heady mix of professional association, trade unions, cartels and secret societies.

Realizing that the King/Queen's favor could make them, getting an  "Appointments to HM the Queen" sign affixed to their place of business became a sort of cottage industry among them.  This snobbery still exists today.  In London you can patronize Fortnum and Mason (groceries and food imports,) Henry Poole & Co. (tailors and bespoke,)  James Locke & Co. (hats,) Garrard (jewelry,) or James Purdey & Sons (guns.) 

Meanwhile, across the Pond (to Brits; Atlantic Ocean to us) a parade was being held on September 5, 1882, to honor workers.  But earlier than that - 1880 - an entrepreneur named George Pullman began churning out passenger rail cars.  He set up his own feudal (no other word) town.  Workers were assigned dwellings in his "village" according to the skill of the job they performed.  They paid rent for this privilege and said rent was lifted before they got the paycheck. 

But a nationwide recession struck in 1893.  May 11, 1894, 4,000 Pullman workers went on strike, but their rent was deducted just the same.  On June 26, 150,000 sympathetic souls in 27 other States said, "We're witcha yas!" and went on strike, too.

Furiously backpedaling, President Grover Cleveland and the Congress decided to pacify the screaming hordes with a parade to honor workers.  I think all of us who might be clinging to the jambs around our own front doors to avoid eviction might find this rather too little, too late. 

But June 28, 1894 was the first official Labor Day.  Six days later, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act made it a federal crime to strike and President Cleveland sent in 12,000 federal offices to quell the strikers.

I go into all of this because it is a very far cry indeed from being forced in to the street to live and the usual Labor Day barbecue celebrated by us today in backyards and parks across this fine land.    If you want to honor the guilds that in a way created the unions of the USA, go to London and buy something from the Queen's approved list.  Do me a favor, okay?  Drop into Purdey's and see if my over and under shotgun is ready - it's paid for, just bring it back for me, okay? 

COMMENT - "Very informative - thanks" Matthew Mayfield

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