A Labor Day lesson

By Stepha Poulin and By Stepha Poulin

Some people see federal holidays as an extra day off. Holidays like Columbus Day and George Washington’s birthday don’t see a lot of people making plans to celebrate, and most people don’t have any vested interest in them, either. Labor Day is one of the few federal holidays that relates to most people. Many forget the day’s purpose, yet the holiday’s origins relate to issues being discussed today.

In short, Labor Day is a commemoration of the labor movement in the U.S., when workers banded together to demand rights through riots, strikes and other means. The early labor movement’s ideals mirror a lot of what people are expecting from today’s society: social equality; honest labor; and independent, virtuous citizens.

Not-so-surprisingly, there were ideological differences within the labor movement that pitted labor unions against other worker’s rights groups and politicians. Extremists on both sides of the labor movement led to violent riots that were ultimately blamed on the movement as a whole.  

I’ll spare the details, rather than giving you an entire lesson on the labor movement. But it’s important to note that Chicago riots led to 6,000 national militia being dispatched.

This is awfully reminiscent of today’s political state. Earlier this year, we saw riot police and military vehicles at Standing Rock. It may not seem to be as imposing as 6,000 troops, but the parallels are there. Despite this, we often forget to reflect on the past.

While we all want what we personally consider the best, constant bickering stops anything from being accomplished. Rather than rallying together on the issues we agree on, we spend our time attacking our “opponents.”

The labor movement also had other ideological struggles that relate to modern times. People were demanding nonpartisan politics then, as they do today, and the Socialist Party was just emerging. Eventually, the Great Depression hit, and people experienced many of the same economic concerns arising today.

There was also a huge focus on industrial politics, which has remained a talking point for years. Today, the U.S. is facing a huge shortage of skilled laborers. After spending decades pushing for high school students to get college degrees, industrial jobs are struggling to find workers.

With this in mind, it is important to look to the past in order to know what to expect in the present moment. We’ve all heard that those who are ignorant to history are doomed to repeat it, but even those who know of our history may not have the foresight to prevent history from repeating itself.

This column is just a friendly reminder that this has all happened before in some way or another. It’s up to us to know our history, and then actually remember it when the time is right.