One hundred and forty years ago, on September 5, 1882, workers in New York City celebrated the first Labor Day holiday with a parade. The parade almost didn’t happen: there was no band, and no one wanted to start marching without music. Once the Jewelers Union of Newark Two showed up with musicians, the rest of the marchers, eventually numbering between 10,000 and 20,000 men and women, fell in behind them to parade through lower Manhattan. At noon, when they reached the end of the route, the march broke up and the participants listened to speeches, drank beer, and had picnics. Other workers joined them.
Sometimes reading about elements of the past is like reading today's newspaper. We humans are slow learners, or at least a good number of us are. Unions showed then, and still show now that we all do better when we all do better.
I thought of you today as I passed a small, loud cluster of maga believers. It was over 100° here, and still they were yelling and waving signs at passing cars. So sad, I thought, and I wished they would read your letters and listen to your chats. But I fear they are lost. Critical thinking skills are not something the magas seem to possess. The ones I saw today all looked a little looney in the heat, with their red, white, and blue outfits. But they were smiling and seemed to enjoy a fellowship with one another. They seem so much like a cult, these maga people.
But you, you are a beacon of reason and truth and compassion. And please, in honor of all the labor you do for us, please enjoy the holiday. I am forever in your debt. I have learned very much from you, and I know there is more learning on the horizon. And I might even try kayaking somewhere here in San Diego.
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” -Lincoln
This is a stupid comment on my part, but here goes: Labor Day has always meant the end of summer and the beginning of school for me. Even though school days are far behind me, and most schools begin before Labor Day now, I still feel a combination of elation for the new school year's possibilities (and new school clothes) and a little sadness for the end of vacation.
I apologize and mean no disrespect for workers and fair wages, but the holiday just has a different meaning for me. I've often wondered why we don't celebrate labor on May 1 when much of the world honors workers. I know it was a communist-oriented holiday originally, but isn't that the point? A day to recognize how capitalism could not survive with out the common folk. You know, the 99%.?
Amazon workers in Staten Island voted on September 1, 2022 to unionize after repeated efforts by Jeff Bezos to defeat their efforts all over the US.
“Amazon loses effort to overturn historic union election at Staten Island warehouse
PUBLISHED THU, SEP 1 20226:39 PM EDTUPDATED THU, SEP 1 20227:02 PM EDT
A National Labor Relations Board official on Thursday recommended Amazon’s objections to a historic union election in New York be rejected.
In April, workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse voted to form its first U.S. union.
Amazon has until Sept. 16 to appeal the NLRB official’s recommendations.”
SUCH GREAT NEWS for this Labor Day, 2022. Thank you, Heather, for giving us the history behind this important holiday in American History.
This article was published more than 3 years ago
You know who was into Karl Marx? No, not AOC. Abraham Lincoln.
The two men were friendly and influenced each other
Image without a caption
By Gillian Brockell
July 27, 2019 at 7:00 a.m. EDT
Karl Marx, left, in 1867 and President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. (Wikimedia Commons; Library of Congress/Friedrich Wunder; Alexander Gardner)
It was December 1861, a Tuesday at noon, when President Abraham Lincoln sent his first annual message — what later became the State of the Union — to the House and Senate.
By the next day, all 7,000 words of the manuscript were published in newspapers across the country, including the Confederate South. This was Lincoln’s first chance to speak to the nation at length since his inaugural address.
He railed against the “disloyal citizens” rebelling against the Union, touted the strength of the Army and Navy, and updated Congress on the budget.
For his eloquent closer, he chose not a soliloquy on unity or freedom but an 800-word meditation on what the Chicago Tribune subtitled “Capital Versus Labor:”
“Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” the country’s 16th president said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
If you think that sounds like something Karl Marx would write, well, that might be because Lincoln was regularly reading Karl Marx.
President Trump has added a new arrow in his quiver of attacks as of late, charging that a vote for “any Democrat” in the next election “is a vote for the rise of radical socialism” and that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other congresswomen of color are “a bunch of communists.” Yet the first Republican president, for whom Trump has expressed admiration, was surrounded by socialists and looked to them for counsel.
Of course, Lincoln was not a socialist, nor communist nor Marxist, just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) aren’t. (Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) identify as “democratic socialists.”) But Lincoln and Marx — born only nine years apart — were contemporaries. They had many mutual friends, read each other’s work and, in 1865, exchanged letters.
When Lincoln served his sole term in Congress in the late 1840s, the young lawyer from Illinois became close friends with Horace Greeley, a fellow Whig who served briefly alongside him. Greeley was better known as the founder of the New York Tribune, the newspaper largely responsible for transmitting the ideals and ideas that formed the Republican Party in 1854.
And what were those ideals and ideas? They were anti-slavery, pro-worker and sometimes overtly socialist, according to John Nichols, author of the book “The ‘S’ Word: A Short History of an American Tradition … Socialism.” The New York Tribune championed the redistribution of land in the American West to the poor and the emancipation of slaves.
“Greeley welcomed the disapproval of those who championed free markets over the interests of the working class, a class he recognized as including both the oppressed slaves of the south and the degraded industrial laborers of the north,” Nichols writes.
Across the Atlantic, another man linked the fates of enslaved and wage workers: Marx. Upon publishing “The Communist Manifesto” with Friedrich Engels in 1848, the German philosopher sought refuge in London after a failed uprising in what was then the German Confederation. Hundreds of thousands of German radicals immigrated to the United States in this same period, filling industrial jobs in the North and joining anti-slavery groups. Marx had once considered “going West” himself, to Texas, according to historian Robin Blackburn in his book “An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln.”
Marx was intensely interested in the plight of American slaves. In January 1860, he told Engels that the two biggest things happening in the world were “on the one hand the movement of the slaves in America started by the death of John Brown, and on the other the movement of the serfs in Russia.”
The day John Brown was hanged for his raid on Harpers Ferry
He equated Southern slaveholders with European aristocrats, Blackburn writes, and thought ending chattel slavery “would not destroy capitalism, but it would create conditions far more favorable to organizing and elevating labor, whether white or black.”
Marx was also friends with Charles A. Dana, an American socialist fluent in German who was the managing editor of the New York Tribune. In 1852, Dana hired Marx to be the newspaper’s British correspondent.
Over the next decade, Marx wrote nearly 500 articles for the paper. Many of his contributions became unsigned columns appearing on the front page as the publication’s official position. Marx later “borrowed liberally” from his New York Tribune writings for his book “Capital,” according to Nichols.
Like a lot of nascent Republicans, Lincoln was an “avid reader” of the Tribune. It’s nearly guaranteed that, in the 1850s, Lincoln was regularly reading Marx.
The editorial staff of the New York Tribune sometime during the 1850s. Horace Greeley is seated third from the left. Charles A. Dana is standing in the center. (Mathew Brady/Library of Congress)
In 1860, two major factors helped to propel Lincoln — a one-term congressman and country lawyer most known for losing a Senate campaign — to the Republican nomination for the presidency. First, the support of former German revolutionaries who had become key players in the Republican Party; and second, the support of the party’s newspaper, the Tribune.
Once Lincoln took office, his alliance with socialists didn’t stop. Dana left the Tribune to become Lincoln’s eyes and ears in the War Department, following along with troop movements and telling Lincoln what he thought of his generals. A soldier working in the telegraph office later wrote that “Lincoln waited eagerly” for “Dana’s long d[i]spatches.”
And Greeley continued to urge Lincoln to take a harder line against slavery, to make the Civil War not just about preserving the union but about abolition. Marx did the same in the pages of the Tribune.
In 1863, they got what they wanted when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln moved to end slavery on New Year’s Day 1863. It went on for three more years.
In January 1865, Marx wrote to Lincoln on behalf of the International Workingmen’s Association, a group for socialists, communists, anarchists and trade unions, to “congratulate the American people upon your reelection.”
He said “an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders” had defiled the republic and that “the workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working class.”
A few weeks later, a reply came via Charles Francis Adams — son of former president John Quincy Adams, grandson of former president John Adams and U.S. ambassador to Britain under Lincoln.
He told Marx that Lincoln had received his message, and it was “accepted by him with a sincere and anxious desire that he may be able to prove himself not unworthy of the confidence which has been recently extended to him by his fellow citizens and by so many of the friends of humanity and progress throughout the world.”
Notably, Adams indicated Lincoln considered Marx and company “friends.”
He went on to say that the Union “derive[s] new encouragement to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe.”
Both letters ran in newspapers across Britain and the United States. Marx was delighted, telling Engels it created “such a sensation” that the “bourgeoisie” in private clubs were “shaking their heads at it.”
Frederick Douglass needed to see Lincoln. Would the president meet with a former slave?
Lincoln also met with the New York chapter of the Workingmen’s Association, telling its members in 1864: “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.” Which is perhaps a more eloquent rendering of Marx’s famous rallying cry: “Workers of the world unite!”
Lincoln never took up the mantle of socialism. He believed in the system of wage labor even as he proposed reforms to it; Marx rejected it as another form of slavery. But Lincoln certainly viewed socialists as allies, and Nichols writes, “It is indisputable that the Republican Party had at its founding a red streak.”
Though this fact may be little known now, it hasn’t been a secret to other figures in American history. When the socialist orator and frequent presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs made a campaign stop in Springfield, Ill., in 1908, he told the crowd, “The Republican Party was once red. Lincoln was a revolutionary.”
It was also noted by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In February 1968, at a celebration of the life of W.E.B. Du Bois at Carnegie Hall, King brought up that the co-founder of the NAACP became a communist in his later years.
“It is worth noting,” King said, “that Abraham Lincoln warmly welcomed the support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and corresponded with him freely. … Our irrational obsessive anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking.”
Read more Retropolis:
Abraham Lincoln’s ‘angel mother’ and the second ‘mama’ who outlived him
Activists slam Ocasio-Cortez for ‘sanitizing’ Eva Perón. Was Evita a Nazi sympathizer?
Missouri v. Celia, a Slave: She killed the white master raping her, then claimed self-defense
“Labor creates all wealth “ should be brought back as a motto for today.
I wonder if they’re allowed to teach this in Texas, Florida, Georgia & Arizona?
Thank you Heather.
I appreciate the concise recap of how Labor Day came to be.
Shall we never take for granted how this Day came to be and how the workers before us fought for our rights.
Be save. Be well.
“‘Let us each Labor day, hold a congress and formulate propositions for the amelioration of the people. Send them to your Representatives with your earnest, intelligent indorsement [sic], and the laws will be changed.’”
Well, that didn’t last long, did it?
Had to keep remembering that you were writing about the 1880-1890’s rather than the current GOP . Did hear that the unions are on the upswing. Once again I am so much more informed than when I woke up this morning. Thank you!
I doubt many Americans know that Labor Day started with jewelers marching with musicians. It's actually a lovely image, in retrospect.
The meaning of it and political tumult that it created, at the time, is certianly lost. Now it is a 'free' Monday; an extra day at the cabin, the lake or the beach. Few appreciate the labor that earned us the 'holiday.' I think even fewer understand the political struggle. So thanks for that history lesson, HCR. You are so DAMN good at that... love you for it.
In a world, now, where our good friends on the R side of the aisle seek to re-invent themselves as "pro-labor" and "pro-working-class" it/that is just laughable to me. In the world they support the average worker should be part-time, not get benefits, should not get overtime and certainly should not organize (their assault on Unions is the thing of legend). Which puts all their 'needs' on the programs of the Federal Government, which they declare are 'handouts' or 'welfare' but that net profits to the very companies that work that program.
The real rub is that the very MAGA R's that support this system have somehow convinced the people most-hurt that they are their best defense against the party that wants to help them the most, and historically does. Between trying to convince their people that D's want to just kill babies and take their guns, they have created a convenient wall of amplified social extremes and the actual world that many MAGA individuals actually live in as well as obscuring the benefits that come from a socially-concsious administration; despite the clear and real difference it makes to their families.
As I've said before: the D message is lost on the benefited in this Country who are largely MAGA supporters. Until the messaging sinks in to them, they will fear Dems as the party who wants to hand out goodies to people they don't think are worthy, despite getting goodies themselves, and with the false-fear that they are going to 'lose' their guns... we have to get these folks beyond this. Biden tries, but he is just not credible/believable. It's not effective.
The D's need a new figurehead. Can't be Joe. And Harris has been largely absent so she doesn't work. It takes a new Obama. Not sure who that is, who is not crazy on certain things, but it will take that type of candidate to pull the Country back to the middle, which is where it should be. I appreciate the left, even the far-left, but notihng happens in a dramatic fashion here. I supported Bernie because I appreciated his goal of moving us to Country that actually took/takes care of its citizens (because the rich SHOULD pay for it) but that is not what sells, obvioulsy.
My prediction: Biden doesn't cut it. Harris hasn't showed up and Hillary is yesterday's news. Fresh blood and new energy and a younger champion for the cause is the ONLY thing that will keep the Orang or (worse) DeSantis from 1600 PA Ave.
Sorry for going so far-afield from Heather's Labor Day post, but sometimes the language just comes...<smile> Thanks for reading. All just my thoughts: so please don't challenge me, as my investment is about 20 minutes of my life to share my musings.
That said: many thanks to all who appreciate my posts, here. Your comments and likes are not lost on me. I love this forum and the opportunity HCR provides us and I've learned way more than I've contributed from this group. I appreciate you all for the time and support you give Heather, as I do.
For much of American history business, supported by the federal government, strongly opposed labor unions, both with laws and with federal troops. With FDR support, there was, despite strong corporate opposition, major unionization of such major industries as auto and steel.
A Republican Congress, in 1947, enacted the Taft Hartley bill over President Truman’s veto. This marked the decline of private sector unionization, which was accelerated by the decline in heavy manufacturing. President Reagan gave anti-unionization another negative shove.
Currently unionization is stronger in the public sector, including education, than in the private sector.. The unionization initiatives in companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, and others I find a positive response to corporations treating employees like widgets rather than human beings.
I belonged to a union and strongly support the expansion of unions in the private sector. This is a Mano-a-Mano fight in which some major corporations are employing vicious anti-union measures.The Biden administration has shown some promising pro-union support, especially in the NLRB.
I believe that the window is narrow in which to increase significantly private sector unionization. Major corporations will employ short-term delaying shenanigans awaiting a more anti-union presidential and congressional make up.
Public sentiment supports enhanced unionization against corporate megaliths. LETS SEE A MORE HUMANE BALANCE BETWEEN INHUMANE CORPORATIONS AND AMERICAN WORKERS.
Appropriately, I just watched the first episode of the TV series, "Porter", made in Canada about the efforts of Black porters in Canada and the U.S. to form unions. It was very powerful--not sure I can stand to watch another. You can find it on Amazon Prime with a free 7 day on trial for special $10 a month program. Heather, thank you. I hope you spend tomorrow resting from labor.
The New York Times denied that workers were any special class in the United States, saying that “[e]very one who works with his brain, who applies accumulated capital to industry, who directs or facilitates the operations of industry and the exchange of its products, is just as truly a laboring man as he who toils with his hands…"
The Devil, or whatever is always in the details. Yes, management is a skill, although one that appears to me to be poorly practiced more often than not. Yes, prudence and hard work can (of you are lucky) advance one's one's fortunes, but it's not all that simple. Robert Reich claimed that Trump would be richer has he put his massive inheritance in an index fund. Nobody, even if rare "rags to riches", nobody makes a billion by hours of hard work alone. There are not that many hours in a lifetime. The key to massive profits is control; and that why monopolies are problematical. Concentrated capital can become like a cosmological black hole, pulling in everything in it's sphere of influence. Look up the British East India Company in India as an example of how anti-democratic this can become. There is a reason why between the "Gilded Age" and the "Reagan Revolution" there was an keen interest in business regulation and "anti-trust".
The history of Labor Day is interesting to think about as is the history of our government that tips back and forth between taking up the rights of the common people and protecting the rich, white men. It does seem that the Senate is the place to be to become rich and powerful and the House is right behind. While I may not favor Liz Chaney’s voting record I celebrate her bravery in putting the constitution and democracy before self gain. The vast majority of those living in the US and its territories are working hard just to try to make a better life for their children and grandchildren. Right now that seems to be slipping away as the wealthiest continue to be rewarded just for being rich. Let’s really think about the labor in Labor Day.