Labor Days “Real” and “Fake”

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laborday1882nyc.jpg
[First Labor Day parade, Union Square, New York, 1882.]

In case it wasn’t obvious, The New Centrist is a pro-labor blog. Yes, I am an anti-totalitarian (including being an anti-communist) and I may not fit the mold of the standard American lefty labor supporter. However, not too long ago, the labor movement was filled with similarly minded folks. Anti-communist because we realized that in every country where the communists seized power, legitimate, independent trade unionists were among the first to receive a lead breakfast. Communist states abolished independent trade unions and brought them under the direct control of the Party. So, frankly, anyone who said they were pro-labor but supported communism at the same time was seen as a hypocrite by the vast majority of U.S. workers.

Today explicit communists are rare in U.S. unions. Most, thankfully, were forced out by the unionists themselves. But there exists in the U.S. a group of ostensibly pro-labor forces who are anything but. Typically calling themselves “progressives” rather than communists they are actually the inheritors of an ideology derived from the worst elements of the New Left, including a disdain for American workers and American unionism.

One exception to this has been the anarchists, especially of the syndicalist variety. Left-anarchists have continued to carry the torch of the Old Left, including intense attachment to the bloody historical struggles of American workers, especially the Haymarket incident. This event sparked International Workers Day, or, May Day. Anarchists consider this the “real” labor day while the holiday celebrated in the U.S. is deemed “fake.”

In the conspiratorial variant of the narrative, U.S. elites–in government, labor and business–conspired to create this fake labor day in order to discredit the real labor day celebrated around the world on May 1. Here is a typical example:

It is not surprising that the state, business leaders, mainstream union officials, and the media would want to hide the true history of May Day, portraying it as a holiday celebrated only in Moscow’s Red Square. In its attempt to erase the history and significance of May Day, the United States government declared May 1st to be “Law Day”, and gave us instead Labor Day – a holiday devoid of any historical significance other than its importance as a day to swill beer and sit in traffic jams.

But facts have a way of discrediting hagiography. The first labor day, organized by carpenter and labor leader William McGuire, was held in New York City on September 5, 1882. Four years prior to the Haymarket incident, five years before the Haymarket martyrs were hanged.

The Library of Congress notes:

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall to Union Square, the workers and their families gathered in Reservoir Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was initiated by Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader who a year earlier co-founded the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, a precursor of the American Federation of Labor.

McGuire had proposed his idea for a holiday honoring American workers at a labor meeting in early 1882. New York’s Central Labor Union quickly approved his proposal and began planning events for the second Tuesday in September. McGuire had suggested a September date in order to provide a break during the long stretch between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. While the first Labor Day was held on a Tuesday, the holiday was soon moved to the first Monday in September, the date we continue to honor.

The parade was considered such a resounding success, another event was held in 1883. The following year, the Central Labor Union urged labor federations across the country to join in the “workingman’s holiday” on the first Monday each September. By 1885, “Labor Parades” were being staged in a number of industrial centers across the U.S., and municipal ordinances recognizing the holiday emboldened workers to take part.

This is the real history of the Labor Day holiday in the U.S. It is not a fake holiday, designed to dupe presumably myopic American workers. Far from it, Labor Day was organized and instituted by the American labor movement. Remember this the next time some chump in a Che Guevara shirt (or an AK Press hoodie) tells you that the “real” labor day is May 1.

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2 responses »

  1. What a job, signing up to freelance as a political scab.

    May Day is International Workers Day, the U.S. “Labor Day” holiday is indeed a fake holiday, as the CLC cancelation of the Labor Day Parade in NYC neatly bookends.

    “Labor” is the category of “official” workers, well-disciplined politically – who wave the flag and hawk for war. But that world is over, with many thanks due to the reactionary policy of business unionism that trained workers to accept professionalized managers inside the AFL(CIO).

    “Labor” is tens of millions for pro-NAFTA Democrats thanks to the largess of Andy Stern.

    “Labor” is the hardhat scumbags who built the WTC attacking people with the foresight and decency to oppose the Vietnam War.

    “Labor” is still doling out the Yellow Menace, from the old days of “workers” mobs of white racists attacking Chinese to the current bait-and-switch that places fault for the destruction of the stable US working class on Mexicans or Chinese instead of the capitalists who are equal opportunity bloodsuckers.

    May Day is the holiday of the international working class, of the wretched of the earth and the soccer mom. It is not a ritual of nationalist garbage and anti-racialism, that is itself so dessicated that it can’t even manage a cattle-drive parade.

    By the way, neo-con leftism isn’t the “center” of anything you fucking chickenhawk scab. Why don’t you sign up to go demolish some houses in Palestine or drop some cluster bombs on Lebanon… Since that seems to be what you’re really about, besides returning plantations to the Miami mafia.

  2. Wow, such rage. Yawn…

    I can tell by your language (and my blog stats) that you came from Indymedia. Indymedia held a lot of promise. Today it is filled with posts by braindead ideologues like yourself. As usual with ideologues, you failed to address the main point and instead chose to engage straw-men (“neo-cons”, “scab”, etc.).

    I’ve never crossed a picket-line or voted for a Republican in my life, ever. But what do you care? Easier to distort the truth (like a typical communist scumbag) and lie, lie, lie.

    The main point of the post is our U.S. Labor Day predated May Day. That is, May Day was based on the pre-existing U.S. Labor Day, not the other way around. This does not mean that people should stop celebrating May Day. If that’s what floats your boat, fine. But the fact of the matter is when people say that the U.S. Labor Day was created to discredit May Day, they are getting the sequence of events reversed. I realize a basic fact like this probably goes way over your head but I thought it worth repeating.

    ““Labor” is still doling out the Yellow Menace, from the old days of “workers” mobs of white racists attacking Chinese to the current bait-and-switch that places fault for the destruction of the stable US working class on Mexicans or Chinese instead of the capitalists who are equal opportunity bloodsuckers.”

    Yes, that’s why organized labor in the U.S. has been spending so much time, energy and resources trying to organize undocumented immigrants. They’ve been getting a lot of criticism from the right because of this. You do remember the massive immigrants’ rights rally in Queens that unions played a major in organizing, don’t you? I was there. Were you? I know, too busy posing at the Brecht Center (or Mayday books, perhaps?)…

    Here’s more on those awful anti-immigrant unions:

    Judge halts illegal immigrant notices
    Jordan Robertson, Associated press

    “The Social Security Administration cannot start sending out letters to employers next week containing notification of more serious penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, a federal judge ruled Friday.

    Ruling on a lawsuit by the nation’s largest federation of labor unions against the U.S. government, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the so-called “no-match” letters from going out as planned starting Tuesday.

    The AFL-CIO lawsuit, filed this week, claims that new Department of Homeland Security rules outlined in accompanying letters threaten to violate workers’ rights and unfairly burden employers.”

    Yeah, that sounds real anti-immigrant to me. Seriously, dude, educate yourself a bit before you comment. Your pseudo-ideology does not mesh with reality.

    By your comments above, I can tell you are an angry *young* man with little real world experience. Get real and grow up. Time to move beyond political role playing games and get serious about your life.

    “May Day is the holiday of the…soccer mom.”

    Yes, they all put on red stars and sing the Internationale on May 1st. I tell ya, they really do…

    Keep lying to yourself buddy. That’s all you and the rest of the communist “movement” have at this point. A history of lies, purges, and liquidations.

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