There's debate around who introduced the idea of a workers' holiday in the United States. Some say it was Matthew Maguire, a machinist, and later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Patterson New Jersey. Others credit Peter J. McGuire, who was general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
President Grover Cleveland?#34;no friend of the worker?#34;found himself pressured by the American public to enact a Labor Holiday. He signed a bill authorizing Labor Day on June 28, 1894.
Earlier that year, President Cleveland used federal troops to quash a strike by the American Railway Union (ARU), which was led by Eugene V. Debs. Employees of the Pullman Co., who manufactured sleeping cars for passenger trains, were protesting wage cuts. In solidarity, the ARU refused to carry any railroad cars manufactured by Pullman Co. and a general railway strike ensued.
The Cleveland administration intervened, and a court order demanding the railway workers return to work was issued. The ARU refused to comply and President Cleveland sent the U.S. military to break the strike. The strikers fought the troops: Workers were murdered, Debs and other ARU leaders were jailed and the strike was broken.
Still, the labor movement and workers' solidarity grew. Debs even ran for President of the United States on the Socialist Party of America ticket, winning 6 percent of the vote in 1912.
Today, we struggle with a transient, global economy that is referred to as "Free Trade." Capital can be freely invested and disinvested in pursuit of the lowest cost and highest profit, without regard to social consequence. People, neighborhoods, states and countries pay the cost of disruption. The social fabric that we all have a stake in is unraveled.
What we need is a fair trade economy. One that is based on democratic empowerment, where successful investment is measured by benefits to people and their communities by those people and communities. This is beyond the scope of the American organized labor movement. To realize this vision, strong bonds must be forged between the American and International labor movements, community organizations and unorganized workers and their families.
On the first Monday in September, we celebrate what organized labor has long sought and often accomplished: improved working conditions, a living wage, quality health care, a secure retirement and respect for their labor.
To read an excellent report on how unions help everybody who relies on a paycheck, visit the Economic Policy Institute web site: www.epinet.org. Click on the Living Standards & Labor Markets icon near the top of the page and scroll down to a briefing paper called "How unions help all workers."
We support the organized labor movement and call for the following:
1) Teach labor history at Oak Park River Forest High School. If a full course is too difficult, DePaul University provides a free, three-day workshop on labor to area high schools.
It includes a discussion on unions and collective bargaining, a role-play at collective bargaining and a tour of the Pullman District. This workshop fulfills an Illinois State education requirement on teaching labor history.
2) Pass a Living Wage Ordinance for the Village of Oak Park. Recipients of economic benefit from or through the Village of Oak Park would be required to pay their employees a living wage in return for public financing of private investment. This is just a fair sharing of the wealth.
Ron Baiman & Tom Broderick
Co-Chairs, Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America