I hope many of you are enjoying your Monday off. (Although I know several people in the service industry who have to work today – including moms!) This post is just a quick reminder that, like Memorial Day, this holiday marks something for which people died.
“It all started with a bad recession in the early 1890s that reduced demand for railway cars, prompting Chicago railway magnate George Pullman to lay off workers and reduce wages. Many of his workers went on strike. The sympathetic American Railway Union refused to handle Pullman cars, hampering commerce in many parts of the country. “The boycott tapped the deep and pervasive alienation of labor in general,” historian David Ray Papke wrote in his 1999 book The Pullman Case: The Clash of Labor and Capital in Industrial America … In July, President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to Chicago to crush the strike. Illinois Gov. John Altgeld (D) resented the president’s decision, as there had not yet been any large-scale rioting. “I protest against this uncalled for reflection upon our people, and again ask the immediate withdrawal of these troops,” Altgeld wrote to the president. Within a day of the troops’ arrival, mobs started tipping railroad cars and setting them on fire. Troops cracked down with bayonets and bullets; the rioting and property destruction worsened. Dozens of people ultimately died in Chicago and elsewhere. The government restored order by the fall, and American Railway Union leader Eugene Debs was eventually convicted of defying a court order and sent to prison.”
Although President Grover Cleveland and his party tried to appease the working man by creating Labor Day less than a week after breaking the strike, the decision by the right-wing President to send in troops to crush Pullman union is the biggest part of the reason the left-wingers won the midterm elections in a landslide and why William McKinley won the next presidential election. (To clarify, in those days the Republicans were the lefties and the Democrats were the righties.)
Thus, as you enjoy your holiday please give a moments thought to the union workers who died because they had the audacity to want to feed their families and because they resented their government betraying them in order to make sure the Robber Barons stayed stratospherically rich.