The Inception of Labor Day – Soil for American Socialism

Sep 3, 2018 by

The Inception of Labor Day - Soil for American Socialism

By Dennis Jamison –

On May 6, 2016, during the heat of the presidential election, Gallup ran an article by Frank Newport titled: “Americans’ Views of Socialism, Capitalism Are Little Changed.” The gist of Newport’s story was that Americans’ attitude towards socialism was not much different than it had been in 2010. Gallup’s poll indicated that 35% of Americans queried admitted to a favorable image of socialism, while 60% of those polled had a positive image of capitalism.

The same author offered a different snapshot of sentiment this August when he posted an article revealing a Gallup poll’s findings that “For the first time in Gallup’s measurement over the past decade, Democrats have a more positive image of socialism than they do of capitalism.” With regard to the the views of those in the GOP towards socialism or capitalism, the poll shows that those who identify as Republicans have views towards socialism and capitalism that have remained basically unchanged in the past eight years.

There also seems to be a seismic-like shift in the Democrat Party in 2018. In this election year, American citizens have recently witnessed the rise of the socialists in the “Democratic” Party in victories in California, New York, and most recently in Florida. Kevin de Leon is challenging Democrat Dianne Feinstein, to take away her senate seat in California. Earlier this year, Kevin de Leon, won the endorsement of the executive board of California’s “Democratic” Party in the race for the senate seat. After the stunning endorsement, de Leon stated: “We have presented Californians with the first real alternative to the worn-out Washington playbook in a quarter-century.”

Additionally, in New York and Florida, Bernie Sanders-styled socialists have rocked Democrat primaries. In a stunning upset in New York, 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Bronx-born community organizer and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, defeated Representative Joseph Crowley, who had not faced a primary challenger in 14 years. Recently in the Florida gubernatorial race, Tallahassee Mayor, Andrew Gillum, defeated the Democrat front-runner, former Rep. Gwen Graham, who dominated the polls throughout the campaign.

How did America get to this point?

The seeming rise in the appeal or success of socialism is unnerving to many American citizens, but the political ideas of socialism have been around for well over a century. What may have changed is the Democrats’ recognition that Bernie Sanders was able to enrapture young Americans during his 2016 presidential campaign, and the recognition he may have gotten the shaft from the Democratic National Committee as they “rigged” the primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton with their “super-delegate” strategy.

It also may be that Democrat candidates may be less fearful of associating with the notion of socialism as the new “sexy” based on Sanders’ foundation in 2016.

In the United States, socialism is not some overnight sensation, nor any new phenomenon. Socialism has had a long, hard-fought struggle to take over a major political party, but it seems as if that is what citizens are witnessing in the new millenium. Amazingly, American socialism had its early roots in the Labor Day holiday being celebrated this weekend by millions of Americans. In fact, the first socialist who rose to prominence did so in the late 1800s. This socialist was Eugene Victor Debs, who rose to notoriety, from the same ashes of history that produced Labor Day, and that past reveals much about the rise of real socialism in the United States.

Many Americans may be surprised to learn that Labor Day was not just created as a nice idea by labor union officials to honor the efforts of those who labored for their hard earned money. It was born from the heat and intense political friction in the summer of 1894. The officially sanctioned federal holiday we know as Labor Day was created in the aftermath of some of the most turbulent labor unrest in the history of the United States. And, Eugene Debs was at the center of it.

In the long hot summer months of 1894, in the midst of the worst economic Depression prior to the Great Depression, an American Railway Union strike, led by union leader Eugene Debs, spread from Chicago, Illinois, to St. Louis, Missouri, and quickly swept through the entire country like a wildfire in intense summer heat. The peak of the ARU strike involved 250,000 workers across 27 states, and it managed to cripple the nation’s rail transportation.

The epicenter of the strike was in Pullman, Illinois, at George Pullman’s Palace Car Company (a railroad sleeping car manufacturing company) where many of the company’s remaining workers (following severe layoffs) were protesting lowered wages while their rental payments to Pullman in his town of Pullman, Illinois remained unchanged. Of 12,000 original employees working prior to the drastic drop off in orders for the train cars, around 3300 workers were retained on payroll. They disputed the inequitable treatment and organized a strike which began on May 11th. Negotiations proved to be irreconcilable.

The Pullman Strike was one of the more dramatic outcomes of the fallout from the Depression that had devastated many formerly healthy businesses through the winter of 1894-94. Mr. Pullman was most likely intent upon saving his company and his worker’s utopia by making as few personal sacrifices as possible. He handled the dire circumstances poorly by not reducing worker’s rent as well as wages. Greed may have been a factor.

The American Railway Union, one of the most powerful U.S. labor unions at the time, voted at their convention in Chicago In June to have a “sympathy strike” supporting Pullman workers. From June 26th, under Eugene Debs’ leadership, ARU members all across the country refused to handle any Pullman cars. The strike shut down such trains attempting to move through either Chicago or St. Louis.

By the end of June, 125,000 laborers working for 29 different railroads were involved in the boycott of the Pullman cars. But what originated as a boycott, drastically morphed into mob violence. Eugene Debs visited Blue Island, Illinois to hold a rally on June 29th, in order to strengthen support for the strike. Strikers turned violent after this rally and destroyed the railroad yards, setting fire to buildings and trains and any easy target.

The widespread labor unrest gained nationwide attention as well as the attention of President Grover Cleveland because it not only concerned nervous railroad executives. The violence also alarmed the general public and prompted demand for government intervention. Cleveland appointed a special counsel to investigate, and eventually, Attorney General Richard Olney obtained an injunction against the strike on July 2nd, decreeing that actions of obstructing U.S. Mail should cease, and making such obstruction a federal crime. President Cleveland called upon U.S. Marshalls to enforce the injunction.

Violence escalated as mobs attacked and torched trains. One train outside of Chicago was even derailed. Two men were killed when U.S. Deputy Marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago. On July 3rd, strikers managed to drag baggage cars across train tracks to block other trains.

Violence spread to many cities and citizens became more fearful. The Cleveland Administration’s injunction also allowed for federal troops to intervene to ensure the free movement of the mail and to re-establish the flow of commerce. So, on Independence Day, Cleveland deployed 12,000 U.S. Army troops to end the violent clashes between the strikers and local authorities and to restore order. However, on July 6th, a mob stormed a train, killing the engineer and injuring many passengers.

Fortunately, it was not too long before the Army took control of the unruly mobs.  Debs and three additional union leaders were arrested on July 10th for interfering with the delivery of U. S. mail.  The Army withdrew by July 19th and the strike officially ended on August 3rd. Unfortunately, approximately 30 people (including 13 strikers) had been killed, and in all, 57 people had been injured or wounded. Union mobs caused about $340,000 (equivalent to roughly $80 million today) of property damage.

During this time, the AFL and Samuel Gompers, as well as the various railroad brotherhoods, opposed the ARU strike and denounced the sabotage, rioting, and the killings. On July 9th, an editorial, printed in the New York Times (well before they became a socialist news outlet), labeled Eugene Debs “…a lawbreaker at large, an enemy of the human race…” Later, the strike became commonly referred to as “Deb’s Rebellion.”

It only took six days after “Deb’s Rebellion” ended before Democrat Cleveland signed a bill that that recognized Labor Day as an official U.S. holiday. The bill had been rushed through Congress and had received bipartisan support and was unanimously approved. Indeed, it was an election year – not for the president, but for many members of Congress. So, not wanting to lose an election due to Cleveland’s cardinal sin, it is likely that the politicians made a last minute play to pander to the union voting block via the Labor Day bill.

“Deb’s Rebellion” proved to be one of the early cornerstones of socialism in America. It further radicalized Eugene Debs. After his arrest, he served six months in prison. While incarcerated, he studied the writings of Karl Marx. Debs ran for POTUS as a socialist – several times. And, Debs became a hero of the Socialist Party in America—much like Bernie Sanders is today. In fact, Eugene Debs must now be proud indeed as his objectives are the closest to becoming fulfilled more than at any other time in American history.

Eugene Debs came to believe that American workers would not get what they deserved until through elections they could eventually gain control of governmental power themselves, and then they could begin the process of replacing capitalism with socialism. Indeed, the socialists never gave up their fight, and the seeds Debs and the Socialist Party planted in the early 1900s are yielding fruit today, on America’s streets and in the hallowed halls of city and state governments, and even at the federal level since the days of Barack Obama.

Truly, the socialists never got what they “deserved” until they finally secured control of the major political party that had pandered to them in 1894. While Obama would not admit he was a “real” socialist, he was not “free” to be as fully candid as someone like Debs—an unabashed and unapologetic Socialist. However, if Obama, or the Democrats of previous days were as transparent as Debs, like Debs, they would never get elected to office.

Yet in 2018, several socialists serve as elected officials, and they seem to have finally got what they “deserved” once they finally secured control of one major political party. Eugene V. Debs must be very proud indeed. And, it may be that the reason for the recent apparent increase in various socialists running for office is that the Democrats no longer feel the need to deceive the American public as to their true identity as they are now “coming out of the closet.”

Source: The Inception of Labor Day – Soil for American Socialism

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