Labor Day is the day we celebrate and honor the contributions of the American Labor Movement but for many of us, Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer. We often celebrate Labor Day by grilling, swimming and relaxing with friends and family. Did you know, however, that this holiday weekend has only been an official U.S. holiday since 1894? So while you enjoy your day off, check out these books about why this glorious Monday is a national holiday!
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Part of the labor movement’s biggest improvements came from the response to the writings of investigative journalists. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to expose the harsh working conditions for American factory workers, particularly women and children. The book did more than just that, however. It also revealed the horrific condition of American slaughterhouses. Meat production facilities had severe issues that could easily lead to contamination. The public’s outrage led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act 1907 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. While Sinclair unintentionally helped current Americans feel assured of the safe conditions of their foods, he was disappointed by the public’s response to his book. He had originally wanted to highlight the poor conditions of the workers, not the poor conditions of the food in the factories.
Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America by James Green
This book is a fascinating read! It is a study of the 1886 Haymarket bombing at a Chicago labor rally that killed several police officers. Occurring in the midst of the largest national strike Americans had ever seen, the bombing created mass hysteria and led to a sensational trial, which culminated in four controversial executions. The trial seized headlines across the country, created the nation’s first Red Scare and dealt a blow to the labor movement from which it would take decades to recover. In this book, James Green recounts the rise of the first great labor movement in the wake of the Civil War and brings to life the epic twenty-year battle for the eight-hour workday. He shows how the movement overcame numerous setbacks to orchestrate a series of strikes that swept the country in 1886, positioning the unions for a hard-won victory on the eve of the Haymarket tragedy. Blending a gripping narrative, outsized characters and a panoramic portrait of a major social movement, Death in the Haymarket is an important addition to the history of American capitalism and a moving story about the class tensions at the heart of Gilded Age America. Continue reading