Monday, September 06, 2004

A Very Politically Incorrect Labor Day Post

Labor Day gives most workers a day off. That's good because an extra day off now and then is a pause that refreshes. A longish trek to a park or a beach on a hot day with a car full of kids isn't a refreshing way to spend Labor Day, but those workers who spend the day at home, perhaps reading a book and listening to music, will find their souls somewhat restored.

Now let us consider the significance of Labor Day as a holiday. According to Wikipedia:
The origins of Labor Day can be traced back to the Knights of Labor in the United States, and a parade organized by them at that time on September 5, 1882 in New York City. In 1884 another parade was held, and the Knights passed resolutions to make this an annual event. Other labour organizations (and there were many), but notably the affiliates of the International Workingmen's Association who were seen as a hotbed of socialists and anarchists, favoured a May 1 holiday. With the event of Chicago's Haymarket riots in early May of 1886, president Grover Cleveland believed that a May 1 holiday could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. But fearing it may strengthen the socialist movement, he quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Knights of Labor and their date for Labor Day. The date was adopted in Canada in 1894 by the government of Prime Minister John Thompson, although the concept of a Labour Day actually originated with marches in both Toronto and Ottawa in 1872. On the other hand, socialist delegates in Paris in 1889 appointed May 1 as the official International Labour Day.

Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States and Canada since the 1880s. The September date has remained unchanged, even though the two governments were encouraged to adopt May 1 as Labor Day, the date celebrated by the majority of the world. Moving the holiday, in addition to violating U.S. tradition, could have been viewed as aligning U.S. labor movements with internationalist sympathies.
In summary (for those of you who didn't grow up in the North), Labor Day is an invention of organized labor, and the historical roots of organized labor are socialistic.

Labor Day also serves to remind us of one of the "monuments" of FDR's New Deal (quoting again from Wikipedia):
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (or Wagner Act) protects the rights of workers in the private sector of the United States to organize unions, to engage in collective bargaining over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment, and to take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in support of their demands....

In the first few years of the Wagner Act, however, many employers simply refused to recognize it as law. The United States Supreme Court had already struck down a number of other statutes passed during the New Deal on the grounds that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to enact them under its power to regulate interstate commerce. Most of the initial appellate court decisions reached the same conclusion, finding the Act unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. It was not until the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute in 1937 in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. that the Wagner Act became law in practical terms as well.
Thus Labor Day, in its way, commemorates legislative and judicial infamy. The Wagner Act, at one stroke, deprived business owners of their property rights and thus discouraged investment and business formation; invalidated the freedom of employers to contract with employees on terms acceptable to employers as well as employees; caused artificially high wages and benefits that harmed American workers by making American industry less and less competitive with foreign industry; and set the stage for the use of the Commerce Clause as an excuse for the federal government's interference in all aspects of business.

So, if you are a worker, enjoy your Labor Day holiday, but don't thank organized labor or the New Deal for your material blessings.