Subject of the Month

A monthly display featuring resources on specific thematic subjects.

September 2019


Photo of Labor Day Parade Detroit 1937


Selector: Alexandra Sarkozy


Did you enjoy an extra day off in September this year? Thank a labor union! This month's Subject of the Month focuses on the labor movement in the United States. The labor movement is responsible for current workers' rights like sick time and the eight hour workday, removing children from dangerous industrial work, and for lifting many people out of poverty into the middle class. Recent scholarship has also explored the intersections of the labor movement with feminism, the environmental movement, and social movements for racial justice. The labor movement has a especially rich history in Detroit, where the United Auto Workers and the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, among others, worked for liberation from capitalist exploitation through union organizing, policy discussions, collective bargaining, political action, strikes, and other solidarity activities.

Please enjoy this selection of resources from collections at Wayne State University Libraries, the Reuther Library, digitized cultural materials, and web resources. We hope you come away with a new understanding and appreciation of this ongoing struggle for both fair wages and dignity for workers everywhere.

This web exhibit is accompanied by a selection of printed books from the Wayne State University Libraries on both current and historical topics related to labor unions, collective bargaining, labor radicalism, and the labor movement. The book display is located on the first floor of the Purdy-Kresge Library.


Labor Day and May Day

Consistent with its high quality reporting and activist stance, Teen Vogue provides us with a historically accurate, easy to understand guide to the political circumstances surrounding the legal creation of Labor Day. "The local and state celebrations began in the 1880s, but the federal holiday was born at the height of the 1894 Pullman rail strike, when 125,000 workers across 29 railroads walked off the job to protest wage cuts."

The Pullman Strike was incredibly disruptive to businesses across the United States, leading to federal intervention by the National Guard.

The creation of Labor Day was seen as a political move by President Grover Cleveland to curry favor with labor leaders in the run up to the 1896 elections. May Day, considered by the labor movement to be the real celebration of the rights of working people, in contrast, was an international day of protest and working class solidarity staged by trade unionists starting in 1890.

Primary source documents about the Pullman strike, May Day, and labor struggles during the Gilded age provide context to the reasons for and responses to the labor turmoil of the time. Here are a few examples: 

Burns, W. F. The Pullman Boycott: A Complete History of the Great R. R. Strike. St. Paul: McGill Printing Co., 1894.

Text of original bill creating Labor Day, 1894 (WSU login required)

Databases, September 2019



Books in Print