Wages still at heart of Labor Day protests 100+ years later

Labor Day is more than just a random day of the year to close shop, take a three-day weekend and head to the pool for one last trip of the summer. It's also a day to pat yourself on the back about all the hard work you've put in. 

That's what the national holiday was truly created for. It's now been more than 125 years since the first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York.

The USDL site says Labor Day, "constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

But, as this TED presentation points out, the holiday didn't always have that warm, positive feeling about it: "The workers had gathered not just to rest and celebrate, but to demand fair wages, the end of child labor, and the right to organize into unions."

Workers' gatherings also resulted in violence across the nation in multiple incidents. 

HISTORY CHANNEL: "In 1894, railway workers in Pullman, Illinois went on strike to protest wage cuts. President Grover Cleveland faced pressure to end the demonstrations and sent 12,000 federal troops to break the strike."  

That clash resulted in the death of two strikers. Fast forward more than 120 years and, though less violent, the issue of fair wages is still a major talking point in regard to the holiday. 

President Obama posted a weekly message on YouTube titled "This Labor Day, Let's Talk About the Minimum Wage."

"In America, no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. A hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay," Obama said.

Obama's first attempt to raise the minimum wage nationwide by 2016 failed earlier this year. The Senate voted 54-42 to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, falling short of the 60 votes needed. The bill faced a tougher fight in the Republican House anyway.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Many, especially fast food workers, say that's simply not enough to live on and are campaigning to raise the wage. 

"I make $8.30 an hour as a shift leader and it's hard to survive. I'm a single parent of a two-year-old. I have rent, lights, daycare fees and at the end of the month I have nothing," said one unidentified fast food worker interviewed on ABC Action News while at a protest. 

The Wall Street Journal reports voters are in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 with 60 percent of respondents to their poll saying it would have a "positive" effect on the economy.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.