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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.


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.


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.


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.

Agricultural Labor


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 A wise man 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.

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