The first Monday in September is celebrated as Labor Day in the United States. A day for honoring workers was first proposed by union leaders in the nineteenth century, and by the late 1880s, several states had adopted the holiday. Following the Pullman railroad strike in Illinois, it became a federal holiday in 1894, signed into law by President Grover Cleveland.
To mark the occasion, we’ve collected our favorite JSTOR Daily stories on workers’ rights, labor unions, and related issues. All the articles below include free links to the supporting academic research.
Labor Activism and Workers’ Rights
In The Debs Archive
August 15, 2022
The papers of American labor activist and socialist Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) offer a snapshot of early twentieth-century politics.
The Flint Sit-Down Strike, From the Inside
December 3, 2021
Americans in "The Great Resignation" and "Strikevember" are the heirs of the 1936-1937 sit-down strike by auto workers in Flint, Michigan.
How Show Business Went Union
October 4, 2021
Since the nineteenth century, the IATSE union has organized behind-the-scenes workers, first in theater, then in the movies.
How Blind Activists Fought for Blind Workers
August 6, 2021
The National Federation of the Blind was the first major group of its kind to be led by visually impaired people.
How the Black Labor Movement Envisioned Liberty
April 3, 2021
To Reconstruction-era Black republicans, the key to preserving the country’s character was stopping the rise of a wage economy.
How the IWW Grew after the Centralia Tragedy
January 13, 2021
A violent confrontation between the IWW and the American Legion put organized labor on trial, but a hostile federal government didn’t stop the IWW from growing.
COVID-19 and Justice for Food Workers
March 21, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic put food workers in danger of contracting infections, with few, if any, consequences for the industries' failures to protect them.
Why Does Meatpacking Have Such Bad Working Conditions?
May 8, 2020
In the long time between The Jungle and today, meatpacking has changed—first for the better, due to strong unions, then for the worse.
Was There a Conspiracy to Kill a Canadian Labor Activist?
May 15, 2022
While conspiracy theories about Ginger Goodwin’s death may interest some, these complicated explanations deflect our attention from real issues.
January 18, 2022
The man who introduced mesmerism to the US was a slave-owner from Guadeloupe, where planters were experimenting with “magnetizing” their enslaved people.
How the Artists Union Shook Up the New Deal
October 5, 2020
When artists showed solidarity with one another and the larger labor movement, they won federal patronage.
Interview: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers
July 9, 2020
Two industrial workers, members of Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers, share experiences with political organizing and education.
The Detroit Rebellion
July 9, 2020
From 1964 to 1972, at least 300 U.S. cities faced violent upheavals, the biggest led by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, in Detroit.
Will Society Remember the Pandemic’s Heroes?
July 5, 2020
If history is any guide, probably not.
How Judi Bari Tried to Unite Loggers and Environmentalists
February 23, 2020
The radical environmentalist had a background in labor organizing and wanted to end the misogyny of the movement and the logging industry alike.
The Great Animation Strike
January 2, 2020
Animation workers took to the streets, carrying signs with bleakly humorous slogans. One read: “I make millions laugh but the real joke is our salaries.”
Women and Children
Puerto Rican Domestic Workers and Citizenship in the 1940s
April 5, 2021
Recruited to work on the US mainland for long hours at less than the prevailing rate, women migrants fought for dignity and recognition.
How St. Louis Domestic Workers Fought Exploitation
January 26, 2021
Without many legal protections under the New Deal, Black women organized through the local Urban League.
The Age of the Birth Certificate
January 12, 2022
When states began restricting labor by children, verifying a person's age became an important means of enforcement.
Heroic Newsboy Funerals
April 11, 2022
These collective rituals of death brought meaning and identity to urban, working-class youth.
Pullman Women at Work: From Gilded Age to Atomic Age
March 30, 2022
Pullman resisted hiring women and did his best to keep attention away from the company’s female employees.
NOW and the Displaced Homemaker
March 23, 2022
In the 1970s, NOW began to ask hard questions about the women who were no longer "homemakers", displaced from the only role they were thought to need.
Giving Overdue Credit to Early Archaeologists’ Wives
March 12, 2021
These women labored alongside their famous husbands to produce world-renowned research.
The USDA Versus Black Farmers
March 11, 2022
Current attempts to correct historical discrimination by local and regional offices of the USDA have been met with charges of "reverse discrimination."
Zombies of the Slaughterhouse
June 30, 2022
The oppressions of Homo sapiens and other species in the US livestock industry aren’t distinct from one another—they’re mutually constitutive.
The Brooklyn College Farm Labor Project of the 1940s
September 22, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic left farmers falling back on students to pick crops. But it certainly wasn’t the first time.
The Lettuce Workers Strike of 1930
November 27, 2020
Uniting for better wages and working conditions, a remarkably diverse coalition of laborers faced off against agribusiness.
Workers of the World
The Global History of Labor and Race: Foundations and Key Concepts
April 29, 2021
How have workers around the world sought to change their conditions, and how have racial divisions affected their efforts?
Skipping School for Harvest Camp
May 20, 2022
As more young adults joined the military or worked in wartime industries, England turned to children to fill the growing gap in agricultural labor.
Mussolini’s Motherhood Factories
April 1, 2022
In fascist Italy, childbirth, breastfeeding and motherhood were given a hybrid structure of industrial management and eugenicist biological essentialism.
Fighting for Sex Workers’ Rights in India
June 24, 2022
Labor unions for sex workers reveal how sexuality, gender, and caste intersect in a precarious and often dangerous work environment.
How LGBTQ Groups Supported Striking Miners vs. Thatcher
January 6, 2022
During a national miners strike, LGBT activists became unexpected allies, united against the Thatcher government.
Who Does the Drudge Work? Answers from Edwardian Britain
December 8, 2021
In 1909, Kathlyn Oliver called for the creation of a servants' trade union that was “as important to the community as the worker[s] in any other sphere."
Paying Moms to Breastfeed in Medieval Europe
June 6, 2022
The idea of offering remuneration to women for breastfeeding—even their own children—wasn’t unusual in late medieval and early modern Europe.
The Woman Teacher Documents a Feminist Labor Union’s Victory
October 31, 2020
The UK’s National Union of Women Teachers went from splinter group to union in its own right, winning on equal pay—as The Woman Teacher shows first-hand.