Cover Image: INDIANAPOLIS, IN / USA George Floyd Protest Turns into Riot, Indianapolis.
This has happened before.
Labor Day traditional grilling, a day off and enjoying the last long weekend of Summer. A holiday to celebrate the workers of America.
Did you know today’s Labor Day is the result of violent riots, anarchists and death? The early 1880’s in the US was a time of labor turmoil. Marked by strikes, protests and riots the period seems similar to protests of today.
Labor activists protested unsafe working conditions, poor pay and a systemic system that supported exploitation of workers. They openly identified as anarchists, socialists and communists. Peaceful protests with 10’s of thousands participants often turned violent. One of the worst was focused in Chicago over the Pullman railroad cars.
In 1883 Pullman instituted hundreds of layoffs and cut wages by 30%. At the same time they kept prices and rents the same in the company town. The laborers called for a strike and other railroad workers honored the strike halting rail traffic across most of the country. At one protest buildings were set fire and mail train was derailed. The attorney general issued an injunction to stop the activity.
The Illinois governor, Jon Altgeld, was pro-labor and he had already called up the state militia to help control the violence. He protested when the Federal government sent troops to his state saying it was an unconstitutional action. The arrival of federal troops brought an escalation of the violence. On July 6 hundreds of railcars in South Chicago were burned and on July 7 federal troops shot into the crowds killing at least 30 and wounding many more.
On May 4th, 1886 the Haymarket Riot turned violent when an unidentified person threw a bomb at police. Eight people died that day. Eight radical activists were convicted of the crime even though there was no clear evidence to prove their involvement. Four of them were executed for it. In 1889 a statue was placed at the scene of the riot dedicated to the policeman who lost their lives there. In 1893 a memorial to the men who were (wrongly) convicted for the act was placed in the cemetery where they were buried.
Stories of the workers plight built national sympathy for the workers’ cause. Politicians began to feel the pressure from a country concerned and ready to support workers rights. Labor Day was a way to recognize workers without loosing too much support from business.
Ultimately the protests resulted in the 8 hour work day, safe workplace regulation and other pro-labor advancements like new child labor laws,
On this Labor Day, perhaps the reason for social unrest are different, but peaceful protests turning violent, backdrops of burning buildings, and federal involvement are eerily similar.