Unions, laborers, employers, and government, oh my! For many, Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah holiday of summer before Autumn and a host of other responsibilities resume. Or, if you’re like me, you find yourself working all weekend and Monday becomes a nice reprieve (or you might be working on that day, too. Thank you.). It’s easy to lose sight of how and why the holiday came into existence and why it continues to matter. The holiday has a complex history that goes beyond the simplified version I’ll share in this blog post. For a more in-depth discussion, please use the following book and article lists as jumping off points. They’ll have bibliographies and notes that will further guide your studies.
On Tuesday, September 5, 1882, the Central Labor Union held its first Labor Day in New York City. It gained traction in other cities and States, evolving into a large scale celebration of trade and labor organizations with demonstrations, parades and other festivities. Eventually, on June 28, 1894, the United States Congress declared Labor Day a legal holiday (after many States had already made it so) and that it would be held on the first Monday of every September. Workers in the US had a great many reasons to rally together. They advocated for better, safer conditions at their places of employment; for the right not to be worked to death; and for time off to care for sick relatives (and their own health), among many other things. Needless to say, unions, workers, employers, and government entities did not always cooperate with each other and the results of their endeavors achieved mixed results. Take a moment this Labor Day and review your State and Federal legislation. Ask yourself what you could do to help improve working conditions in your region and familiarize yourself with resources and organizations that assist workers.
The handful of books below discuss working class queer folk and labor activists in the United States. And, since I love using my local public library databases to mine for information, you’ll also find a list of articles that I discovered using EBSCOHost (Google Scholar is a good place to start if you need to find full-text access outside of a library database). Since I put this together the day before Labor Day (Monday, September 4, 2017) and was definitely not on the ball, I appreciate suggestions you have for additional articles and books. You can leave those in the comments below.
- Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America (2014) by Miriam Frank, Temple University Press
- Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions (2015) by Michael Helquist, Oregon State University Press
- Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk (2014) by Melinda Chateauvert, Beacon Press
- Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers (2014) by Anne Balay, University of North Carolina Press
Tilcsik, A., Anteby, M., & Knight, C. R. (2015). Concealable Stigma and Occupational Segregation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 60(3), 446-481. doi:10.1177/0001839215576401
Mosoetsa, S., Stillerman, J., Tilly, C., & Smith, S. R. (2016). Queers are Workers, Workers are Queer, Workers’ Rights are Hot! The Emerging Field of Queer Labor History. International Labor & Working-Class History, 89184. doi:10.1017/S014754791500040X
Reading List (non-queer specific)
- Library of Congress: Articles relating to Labor Day from the LoC’s impressive quest to archive America’s historic newspapers.
- United States Department of Labor’s “History of Labor Day” .
- Former United States Department of Labor Historian, Linda Stinson, talks about the “History of Labor Day” (2011).
- Whalen, Kelly. “How the Weekend Was Won.” Livelyhood: PBS. http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/workday/weekend/8hourday.html (accessed September 3, 2017).