Today, a major issue for Blacks is “unemployment.” For Blacks, in 1860, the major issue for Blacks was the “form of employment.” Blacks were chattel slaves. Therefore, in 1860, for Blacks, there was “full employment.” There were no labor laws, and Blacks had no rights. There were blue states and red states.
Until slavery, in the United States came to an end, it was impossible to celebrate a “Labor Day." There was slavery, in the red states and unorganized labor in the blue states. Any group or element of society that is unorganized is susceptible to exploitation, in the United States. This is especially true for Black labor.
During slavery, there was an imbalance in the labor market. Slavery maintained this imbalance. There was “free labor” in the red states and “plea bargaining” in the blue states. These were more pleas than bargaining. This would continue until labor became organized.
The right to bargain is the dividing line between organized labor and unorganized labor. Workers who refuse to organize do not have the benefit of representation and collective bargaining. The opportunity to negotiate leads to contracts that can protect organized workers.
Under chattel slavery, we had no rights to protect. Slaves were deprived of self-determination. Four hundred years later, we still, in too many instances, remain complacent and still indulge in the same bad habits that we were forced to practice on the plantation. We should not be in this predicament today. We have gone from involuntary servitude to volunteer slavery.
In the area of politics, Blacks still refuse to form a bargaining unit, that is, a political party, as was initially suggested to us during Reconstruction, by Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Our own political party would give us the necessary leverage to gain real political power. Instead of doing for self, Blacks have become too comfortable having whites speak for them. Since Reconstruction, both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have been involved in a “Mutt and Jeff” routine that we have fallen for.
True freedom means acting without being constrained by the badges and bondage of slavery. We must stop financing our own oppression. Most Blacks are democrats. Before going to the polls in November 2020, demands must be made on the Democratic Party to seriously address the needs of Black constituents. A contract must be negotiated, and we must demand that it be enforced. We must be vigilant and persistent in following up with all and any political representatives.
John Patterson Green, (1845–1940) is the “Father of Labor Day.” He was an effective Black legislator and attorney from Cleveland, Ohio. He served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives and went on to serve in the State Senate from 1892-1893. Green, effectively, introduced legislation in Ohio establishing a workers’ holiday, designated as “Labor Day.”
Thus, Green was the first person to give official appreciation to our hard labor. It was not until 1894 that President Grover Cleveland picked up this theme for the whole nation. This makes John Patterson Green the “Father of Labor Day” in this country.
Green was also the first person of African ancestry to become a judge in Ohio. As a trial lawyer, he was virtually unbeatable. President William McKinley appointed him to an administrative position in the United States Post Office. He left a shining example for us to follow. His legacy should always be remembered, especially on Labor Day.
Partly due to complacency, we have lost a lot of ground since Green’s achievements. Today, police brutality against Blacks is running rampant with no legislators writing and enforcing any real policy to deter it. The prison-industrial complex is still negatively affecting the lives of Blacks. The imprisonment of Black men today far exceeds the number of Black males in higher education. Plea bargaining fuels the prison-industrial complex. It is all pleading and no bargaining. Blacks are routinely punished when attempting to bargain with prosecutors. This is a “badge of slavery” and it violates the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Samuel Gompers, in 1898, called “Labor Day”: “the day for which the toilers in past centuries look forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed … [and] that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”
Labor Day is celebrated the first Monday in September. It is also the day set aside in New York for the “West Indian Day Parade.” This historical event will not be held Labor Day 2020, due to Covid-19. However, it is encouraged that future occurrences of the “West Indian Day Parade” on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY, which attracts more than two million Black revelers, recognize and honor John Patterson Green, as the “Father of Labor Day,” and the rich legacy he left for all of us.
The True Meaning of “Labor Day” ©
By Alton H. Maddox, Jr.