Monday, September 1, 2014

The History of Labor Day

            One of the most misunderstood days on the American calendar is Labor Day.  Labor Day is perhaps the only sarcastic holiday in the entire world.  The day traces its roots back to New York City in 1882.  At that time there was a benevolent factory owner named John Fitzpatrick.   Fitzpatrick had been an Irish immigrant himself, but through his own blood and sweat, he had managed to purchase a soap factory.  It wasn't glamorous, but he made a good living for himself and for his family with the soaps he produced.
            Like a lot of the business leaders of the 19th century, Fitzpatrick wanted to make a profit, but he cared first and foremost for his workers.  If they had a problem they not only knew they could always come to John, they knew he'd probably come to him first.  The Fitzpatrick Soap Factory was like one big family with 60 members.  The workers enjoyed their jobs and John had loyal workers.
            Then the International Brotherhood of Soap Factory Workers came to town.   At first, John's employees resisted joining the union, but a couple of his men got greedy and before long union membership had spread through the factory like venereal disease through a Parisian brothel.  Now, when it was time to discuss money or working conditions, instead of seeing one of his loyal workers sitting across the table from him, John had to deal with a suit wearing thug from the IBSFW. 
            John paid his workers 8 cents and hour, but once the union was running things, they demanded 14 cents an hour.   This was more money than John could afford.  Even though he wanted to pay his workers well, he knew this would bankrupt him.   John offered to pay 10 cents an hour, which was a 25% raise and all the money that he could afford.  The IBSFW didn't care and they immediately took the workers out on strike.
            For weeks the strike raged.   The union hired thugs and they smashed the windows on the factory and broke the lock on the front gate.   Things began to get violent and John was worried that somebody would be badly hurt, so he conceded.  He called the union and let the workers know that he was willing to pay the 14 cents an hour they demanded.
            When the workers returned to the factory, they sheepishly looked around at all the damage their strike had caused.  They all assembled in the factory yard, excited to return to work feeling that they had won something that they fought for.
            A very tired John Fitzpatrick walked out to greet them all feeling every bit of his 56 years of age.   The men smiled as he approached and asked John what he wanted them to do.   John was so disgusted he looked at his expensive work forced and told them, "Oh boys, you've worked so hard with your strike and everything.  Why don't you rest up from all your labor.  You can start working tomorrow."
            To John's surprise, the workers let out a mighty cheered and happily the men shuffled out of the factory yard.   John shook his head and sighed.   Somehow, those workers had missed the sarcasm in his voice.  "The next thing you know, they'll be wanting a parade or something," he said to himself.
            Unfortunately, the greedy workers had killed John Fitzpatrick' business.  Within 6 months, the factory was boarded up and the workers were out of jobs.   The one remnant of the factory was the holiday that John Fitzpatrick had created sarcastically.  Labor Day has grown to be a national holiday and workers everywhere owe it all to one soap factory and the sarcastic boss that created a national institution.