A Celebration of Working in America – JSTOR Daily

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.

Sitdown strikers in the Fisher body plant factory number three. Flint, Michigan, 1937

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.

The cast and crew of a 1950's film at work on a sound stage

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.

Blind men working on boxes for Elizabeth Arden cosmetics at the Lighthouse, an institution for the blind in New York

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.

A woman picking vegetables

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.

I.W.W. Picnic, July 1919, Seattle, Washington.

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.

Uber Eats delivery people

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.

Men prepare bacon at a meat packing plant in Chicago, circa 1955

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.

The gravestone of Ginger Goodwin

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.

Animal magnetism

Mesmerizing Labor

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.

Harry Gottlieb's Artists' Union membership card, 1935

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.

Darryl “Waistline” Mitchell (left) and Donald Abdul Roberts (right)

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.

Two police officers in full riot gear arrest a Black man during a breakout of rioting and looting on the West side of Detroit, Michigan, July 23, 1967.

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.

Nurses react as community members applaud them on April 30, 2020 at NYU Langone Hospital in New York City.

Will Society Remember the Pandemic’s Heroes?

July 5, 2020

If history is any guide, probably not.

Judi Bari speaks at an Earth First! forest rally in 1990 before she was bombed on the eve of Redwood Summer.

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.

Employees of the Fleischer Studios picket the New Criterion Theater in New York to protest against the showing of Popeye and other cartoons drawn by striking Fleischer artists, 1937.

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

A mural in Paseo Boricua on Division Street in Chicago

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.

New Orleans, 1939

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.

Child workers at Avondale Mills, 1910

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.

Newsboys amusing themselves while waiting for morning papers, New York, 1908

Heroic Newsboy Funerals

April 11, 2022

These collective rituals of death brought meaning and identity to urban, working-class youth.

Women sewing fabric for seats at Pullman Works, Chicago, Illinois.

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.

Housewife Annie Driver of Hunstanton, Norfolk, scrubbing the floor, 1956

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.

Family photo with Heinrich and Sophia Schliemann, 1871

Giving Overdue Credit to Early Archaeologists’ Wives

March 12, 2021

These women labored alongside their famous husbands to produce world-renowned research.

Agricultural Labor

A farmer in Louisiana, 1972

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.”

A butcher processes some meat at Vincents Meat Market on April 17, 2020, in Bronx, New York City

Zombies of the Slaughterhouse

June 30, 2022

The oppressions of A wise man and other species in the US livestock industry aren’t distinct from one another—they’re mutually constitutive.

Four top pickers holding barrels of beans. Morrisvile. 1943.

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.

An image of lettuce from 1926

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

Employees of Ottenheimer on strike for poor treatment

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?

Boy Scouts Pick Fruit For Jam at a Fruit-picking Camp Near Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, 1944

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.

Benito Mussolini meets an enthusiastic group of mothers and their babies in Turin, circa 1940.

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.

A woman's sari and feet

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.

FNV headquarters occupied by sympathizers of the British mine strikers; the police remove the activists

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.

Acland servants in 1897 by Sarah Angelina Acland

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.”

A woman breast feeding her child, 13th century

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.

A teacher teaches her young pupils how to spell, 1930.

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.

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