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Conservative Review

Happy Labor Day! A holiday born in violence

The legislation creating Labor Day was brought forward as the United States was firmly in the grip of leftist-agitated violence.

Socialist labor movements in the country had been clamoring for the adoption of May 1, or “May Day,” as an International Labor Day since the mid-1880s. The holiday had been celebrated at local and state levels sporadically throughout the country, but was finally adopted at the federal level by President Grover Cleveland as an election compromise with the labor movement in the aftermath of the nation’s first national strike — a bloody one.

The year 1893 was marked by a severe economic depression, then aptly called a “panic.” Businesses and banks collapsed in record numbers. Unemployment skyrocketed. Those who still had their jobs found their wages slashed — and that is where the trouble began in Pullman, Ill.

George Pullman founded his namesake town in 1880, where he established the Pullman Car Company. Pullman was in the railroad business; his company manufacturing railroad cars. It was a profitable company, formed at the height of America’s vast railroad expansion. The town of Pullman was built for the workers, as the workers lived on company-owned land in company-owned residences and shopped in company-owned stores.

When the Panic of 1893 hit, several workers were laid off from the Pullman Car Company, while the rest suffered an average of a one-fourth wage cut. Eventually, the downtrodden and livid workers organized a strike, and to their aid quickly came the American Railway Union (ARU) and its socialist leader, Eugene V. Debs. Debs helped orchestrate a national boycott of trains carrying Pullman cars.

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