Labor Day. Is there another popular celebration on our calendar that is as much an anachronistic caricature?
The first Labor Days were spontaneous eruptions of worker dissatisfaction and outrage over Gilded Age wages and working conditions. These facts of daily working class life, without television to distract and confuse workplace issues beyond typical understanding through carefully crafted public relations propaganda campaigns, prompted working people to take to the streets to demand redress of their many grievances against their employers.
The initial response to such rebellion was to call out the military or private security firms such as the Pinkerton Agency and shoot a few of the protesters as a warning to the rest. This strategy was tried repeatedly: Homestead, PA; Pullman, IL; Ludlow, CO; the first Columbine Massacre in 1927; Lattimer, PA; Bay View, WI; and in so many other places and times. Despite the casualties, labor stood tall and held its ground when it could. Other times, such as Phelps-Dodge in 1983, labor lost mightily, swept from the field by superior forces.
For an all-too-brief period, especially after the 1937 Battle of the Overpass which convinced Henry Ford to allow the UAW to organize his factories, labor and management reached a tenuous peace which was rarely broken by physical violence of the scale experienced previously. But with the declaration of open season on labor by Ronald Reagan's manipulation of the law against PATCO, that dénouement became the model for the abuse of labor in the wider search for ever higher profits through greatly reduced costs. Things just haven't yet gotten so bad that violence results.
It is only a matter of time before working wages and conditions return to those Gilded Age conditions which inspired our ancestors to rise up en masse. I doubt that such unified popular actions could even happen today, considering that our nation is fractured so thoroughly over social and "moral" issues which don't involve our personal financial well-being. Too many of the working class now deem those who helped their grandparents achieve middle-class lifestyles to be enemies of the very corporate-financial establishment which oppresses them. They cheer the defeat of a union for having more than they themselves have. But they won't lift a finger against the bosses to ask for more, even if they deserve it.