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Labor Day Brought To You Thanks To the Heroic Struggles of Railroad Workers
by Steven Argue
Saturday Sep 5th, 2015 11:12 AM
While Labor Day was purposely put on the wrong date by the U.S. ruling class, it is still a fruit of the hard fought struggles of the working class. Likewise, while many may see the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs as a failure, when it was still a Marxist party it actually built a strong socialist movement that gave rise to other parties that fundamentally changed the conditions of the working class in the United States. These communist parties led strikes in 1934 that helped transform the conditions of American labor.
pullman.jpg
Labor Day Brought To You Thanks To the Heroic Struggles of Railroad Workers

By Steven Argue

Labor Day was enacted as a national holiday in 1894 with legislation signed by President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Less than one week later, Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to brutally crush the Pullman Porter Strike. Capitalist oppression against the Pullman Porter Strike left 30 people dead and the leadership of their union, including Eugene Debs, were sent to prison.

The Pullman Porter Strike was initiated because George Pullman, a railroad capitalist and landlord, laid off workers, cut wages, and refused to lower rents. The victory of the American Railway Union (ARU) against the Great Northern Railroad gave workers confidence in their ability to succeed at Pullman, and Pullman's greed gave workers little choice. A nation-wide strike was initiated and then brutally crushed by the capitalist state and its Democrat Party. Of this defeat, ARU leader and founder Eugene Debs wrote from prison:

"To crush the American Railway Union was the one tie that united them all in the bonds of vengeance; it solidified the enemies of labor into one great association, one organization which, by its fabulous wealth, enabled it to bring into action resources aggregating billions of money and every appliance that money could purchase. But in this supreme hour the American Railway Union, undaunted, put forth its efforts to rescue Pullman’s famine-cursed wage slaves from the grasp of an employer as heartless as a stone, as remorseless as a savage and as unpitying as an incarnate fiend. The battle fought in the interest of starving men, women and children stands forth in the history of Labor’s struggles as the great “Pullman Strike.’ It was a battle on the part of the American Railway Union fought for a cause as holy as ever aroused the courage of brave men; it was a battle in which upon one side were men thrice armed because their cause was just, but they fought against the combined power of corporations which by the use of money could debauch justice, and, by playing the part of incendiary, bring to their aid the military power of the government, and this solidified mass of venality, venom and vengeance constituted the foe against which the American Railway Union fought Labor’s greatest battle for humanity.

"REWARDS AND PENALTIES. What has been your reward for your splendid courage and manifold sacrifices? Our enemies say they are summed up in the one word “defeat.’ They point to the battlefield and say: “Here is where the host of the American Railway Union went down before the confederated enemy of labor.’ They point to the spot where Miles’ serried soldiery stood with drawn swords, tramping steeds and shotted guns to kill innocent men whose only crime was devotion to wretched men and women, the victims of Pullman’s greed. They designate the places where the minions of a despotic judge, the thieves and thugs, taken from Chicago slums, transformed into deputy marshalls and armed with clubs and pistols, went forth to murder indiscriminately and to arouse the vengeance of the people by incendiary fires, and they point to the General Managers’ Association, the Nero of the occasion, whose pitiless enmity of labor would have glorified in widespread conflagration rather than permitted a strike in the interest of famishing men, women and children, to have succeeded; and such disasters, say the enemies of labor, are the rewards of the courage of the A.R.U. men, a courage as invincible as was ever displayed by Spartans, and which makes Pullman’s Labor Thermopylæ to live in history as long as the right has a defender in the ranks of American workingmen."

"TRUTH IT IS THAT THE “Sons of brutish Force and Darkness,’ who have “drenched the earth with blood,’ chuckle over their victories. They point to the blacklisted heroes of the American Railway Union, idle and poor, and count upon their surrender. Their hope is that our order will disband; that persecution, poverty and prison will do the work. These gory-handed enemies of our order expect to put out our lodge fires, silence our battle cries, disrobe ourselves of courage and manhood, permit them to place their ironshod hoofs on our neck and sink us to fathomless depths of degradation and make the American Railway Union the synonym of all things the most detestable.

"CAN THEY DO IT? In the presence of prison doors and prison bars and weary months of incarceration, I answer a thousand times, NO!"

-Eugene Debs, Proclamation to American Railway Union, Issued upon his sentence being affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States, 1894

As a railroad worker, it was based on the experiences of the Pullman Porter Strike that Eugene Debs adopted Marxism and the need for a socialist party to lead the socialist revolution in the United States.

Grover Cleveland signed the act on June 28th, 1894 establishing Labor Day as a federal holiday as a means of appeasing the conservative wing of the labor movement while preparing to crush its left wing. Grover Cleveland even made a point of sending the signing pen for Labor Day to conservative AFL labor "leader" (i.e. labor faker), Samuel Gompers, as a souvenir. Less than a week later, Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to brutally crush the Pullman Porter Strike. Gompers, showing the same proclivity of labor leaders today to love the bosses and their government more than workers, refused to support the strike.

In addition to Labor Day being an act of appeasement, it was also seen by both Samuel Gompers and Grover Cleveland as a preferred alternative to the May 1st (International Worker's Day). International Worker's Day become the international holiday honoring the working class after it was adopted by the Second Socialist International. It is in honor of the Haymarket Martyrs of Chicago Illinois who were fighting for the eight hour day in 1886. Some of the Haymarket martyrs were murdered by the police in the streets, others were framed-up and hung for their roles in leading the struggle for the eight hour day. For Gompers and Cleveland, the far more innocuous Labor Day date that had no internationalist or socialist appeal and that had little history in the life and death struggles of the American labor movement was far preferable. Today, the whole world celebrates labor day on May 1st, that is the whole world with the exception of the United States, the country whose government martyred the heroes of Haymarket.

While Labor Day was purposely put on the wrong date by the U.S. ruling class, it is still a fruit of the hard fought struggles of the working class. Likewise, while many may see the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs as a failure, when it was still a Marxist party it actually built a strong socialist movement that gave rise to other parties that fundamentally changed the conditions of the working class in the United States. These communist parties led strikes in 1934 that helped transform the conditions of American labor.

The Communist Party was a left split from the Socialist Party as the Socialist Party drifted right and the more conservative leadership of the Socialist Party denied its communist majority internal democracy within the party. They even called in bourgeois cops to their convention to prevent elected socialists who were inspired by the Russian Revolution from taking their seats. Trotskyism was a left split from the Communist Party that defended Lenin’s positions over those of Stalin. Both the Communist party and the Trotskyist movement played a leading role in the labor movement of the 1930’s.

Before 1934, the working class of the United States was getting pulverized, in part due to the ineffective tactics of the union bureaucracy. It was a situation very similar to today. In 1934 this all changed with three major strikes led by reds. These were the Minneapolis Teamsters strike, led by the Trotskyists of the Communist League of America, the San Francisco Longshoreman's strike, led by the Communist Party, and the Toledo Auto Lite strike, led by the left socialists of the Workers Party (which later joined the Trotskyists).


These three strikes were the beginning of a labor upsurge that greatly improved the lives of the working class of the United States through collective bargaining. It also forced the ruling class to begin giving us the New Deal in 1935 which included a minimum wage, an end to most child labor, Social Security, and jobs programs. While this was only a beginning to what we deserve, they were still victories, and those victories were won through militant industrial actions.

As the working class of the United States gets beaten down further and further, and even Social Security is being moved to the chopping block, the lessons of 1934 are still relevant to today. To learn those lessons, I strongly encourage people read "Teamster Rebellion" by Farrell Dobbs and "The Big Strike", by Mike Quin.

Communists like myself are extremely critical of the union bureaucracy from Samuel Gompers to his modern day equivalent, Richard Trumka. Yet, we support and defend the unions against the bosses and the government. The communist movement has a long proud history of leading the labor movement in the United States, including the Trotskyists who led the Teamsters strikes of the 1930's under the leadership of James P. Cannon and Leon Trotsky. That leadership was critical to building a revolutionary vanguard in the United States as well as winning important gains for the working class.

For The Rebuilding of a Revolutionary Workers Party in the United States!
Forward to New 1934 Style Working Class Rebellions!

Steven Argue of the Revolutionary Tendency

Revolutionary Tendency
https://www.facebook.com/RevolutionaryTendency

This is an article of Liberation News, subscribe free:
http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/liberation_news

Also from this author, check out:

Murderous Cops, Liberal Snake Oil, & Revolutionary Solutions
By Steven Argue
http://boston.indymedia.org/newswire/display/222482/index.php

U.S. & South Korean Aggression On DPRK Risks Massive Conventional & Atomic War
by Steven Argue
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/08/23/18776538.php

Racist and Pro-War Bernie Sanders Is No Socialist and No Friend of the Working Class
by Steven Argue
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/08/11/18776028.php

Against The Banning of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan
By Steven Argue
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/08/19/18776388.php

Response to Amnesty International's Biased & Selective Reporting on Ukraine
Steven Argue
https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/08/30/18776836.php
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