For many, Labor Day is just another day off and signals the unofficial end of summer. Marabou appreciates a day of rest and feels it’s important to think about what this federally-designated holiday represents.
The US Department of Labor describes Labor Day as follows: “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Beyond economics, Labor Day should be a reminder of all the work done by activists and organizers past and present to ensure humane working conditions, fair wages, and worker protections.
A New York Times article entitled “What is Labor Day? A History of the Workers’ Holiday” reminds us that on the first Labor Day held in New York on September 5, 1882, workers risked their jobs to participate in the day’s festivities. At this time many people worked up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. For some, the Labor Day celebration was a one-day strike since it was not yet an official holiday. Workers used the Labor Day parade in 1882 as an opportunity to march and demonstrate for better working conditions. On Labor Day, Marabou is grateful to those who struggled/struggle and fought/fight for better wages, working conditions and workers’ rights. For Labor Day 2018, Marabou is celebrating Clara Lemlich.
Clara Lemlich was born in Gorodok, Ukraine in 1886. When she immigrated to New York with her family in 1903, she immediately began work in a garment factory and joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). On November 20, 1909, at the age of 23, Clara stood on the stage of Cooper Union during a major labor rally and inspired 20,000 women working in the garment industry to strike and protest. The strike, now known as the Uprising of the Twenty Thousand, lasted two months and started momentum for actual change in garment industry working conditions. Throughout her life Clara was involved in civil rights activism, working for women’s suffrage, unionizing housewives and more. Even at the end of her life, Clara encouraged the workers in her nursing home to organize. On August 1st of this year, The New York Times honored Clara with a much-overdue obituary that you can read here.
Clara is highlighted with many other activists in the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition “Activist New York.” Visit the exhibition’s website for MCNY for inspiration!