A Labor Day Salute To Small Business Owners

Jim Blasingame Reserved

Labor Day began as an idea in the mind of one person who cared greatly for a very important segment of the marketplace. But who that person was has been debated for more than a hundred years.

Some records indicate it was machinist and Central Labor Union (CLU) official, Matthew Maguire. Maguire is reputed to have first suggested a day to honor "the workingman."

There are other references to Peter McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, being the father of Labor Day. McGuire is said to have first proposed the honoring of those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

Regardless of the paternity of a day honoring those who labor, such a day was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City by members of the CLU who took an unpaid day off to demonstrate solidarity and, of course, have picnics. The event was repeated a year later as the CLU urged labor organizations in other cities to celebrate a "workingman's holiday" on the first Monday in September.

The idea caught on and spread quickly. New York introduced the first government bill for an official Labor Day, but Oregon beat them to the punch in terms of such a bill being signed into law. And by 1890, more than two-dozen states had adopted an official Labor Day.

But if it hadn't been for a major labor strike, and the self-interest of politicians, who knows how long it would have been before Labor Day became a federal holiday?

Labor Day and Pullman Cars
1894 was an election year. It was also the year an ugly strike was waged by employees of the Pullman Company, the makers of railroad sleeper cars.

In 1880, founder George Pullman built a "Utopian" town around his factory in Illinois called - you guessed it - Pullman. Hard-by to Chicago, Pullman, Illinois was a real company town: company store, company housing, and even a company bank, upon which Pullman employee payroll checks were drawn, and from which checks company store provisions and rent for company housing was deducted.

Everything operated with almost Utopian efficiency until 1893, when a national depression caused orders for Pullman cars to drop to such a level that some Pullman employees had to accept pay cuts, and some were laid off. This 19th century downsizing produced a can of worms: How do you deduct company-housing rent from an employee's paycheck when there isn't one?

The subsequent strike was so ugly that President Grover Cleveland declared it a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break it up. The strike ended on August 3, 1894, but not before significant property damage occurred, plus two people were killed and many were jailed.

With 1894 being an election year, President Cleveland, and Congress, needed to make amends with the working class for their heavy-handedness. Consequently, legislation was rushed through both houses at record speed: Just six days after U.S. troops had broken the strike, Cleveland's signature made the first Monday in September Labor Day a federal holiday, including the District of Columbia and the territories.

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, then head of the American Federation of Labor, called Labor Day, "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

Why Not A National Small Business Day?
Alas, entrepreneurs aren't organized like our union brethren, nor are we as pushy. Probably because we are too busy paying for national holidays for our employees.

There is no single Small Business Day officially decreed by the U.S. Government. No Entrepreneur's Day set aside to honor the few who do so much for so many; a day when everyone gets off to picnic and party down in honor of the real heroes of the marketplace.

There actually is a small business week. The U.S. Small Business Administration picks a week each year, usually in May, to recognize those who have been chosen at the state levels as the creme de la creme of entrepreneurs in America. Plus, like the unofficial Labor Day events of the 1880s, there are Small Business Weeks conducted by chambers of commerce in cities across the country. But the dates are random and the festivities are parochial.

Easier Said Than Done
If we are ever to have a national Entrepreneur's Day, we'll have to convince the government, and that's easier said than done. Small business has many champions in Congress, but there is way too much indifference, disregard, and in some cases, incredibly, blatant disrespect and disdain by politicians for those who sign the front of over 70 million paychecks every Friday.

Ask a politician to get excited about a small business in his or her district getting an award and you might get a favorable response, but you might not. Trust me. I speak from years of experience.

But if you want be in the one place where you know you can find a member of your Congressional delegation, check the district Labor Day celebrations. The only thing more guaranteed than picnics and bar-b-que on Labor Day is the appearance of members of the political class, as they kiss babies, glad-hand, and generally suck up to the leaders and rank-and-file members of local unions.

What's Wrong With This Picture?
Today, unions represent less than 14% of all U.S. workers, a 60-year low. Small businesses, on the other hand, number in the tens of millions, and our numbers are increasing by almost 1 million per year. We currently represent over 98% of all U.S. businesses; create over 55% of all new innovations; employ over 60% of all workers; and produce over 50% of U.S. gross domestic product. Plus, we pay for over 70 million workers to take Labor Day off.

Let's see...big deal on Labor Day - no Entrepreneur's Day. What's wrong with this picture?

National Entrepreneur's Day
I was thinking about initiating a movement to create a national Entrepreneur's Day. First, it has to be proposed and passed in Congress, and then signed into law by the President. That would require convincing 270 people (a majority in the House and Senate, plus the Pres) that an Entrepreneur's Day is a good idea. No hill for a climber, right? Right.

But then my small business genes kicked in and I remembered that every national holiday is a double whammy for small business: A lost day of company productivity with payroll expense. Even if I could motivate politicians with something like a Pullman strike, and get a new national day off to honor small business, it would actually become a financial burden on those who were being recognized.

So, What's The Answer?
Let's celebrate Entrepreneur's Day in a way no other national holiday has been established: on a Sunday - actually, the second Sunday in August. I chose Sunday because that would create the least payroll problems.

I chose August, because that's the month in the year when Congress is in recess and all politicians return to their home districts. This way, they can practice their sucking up on us in preparation for Labor Day.

Write this on a rock... To paraphrase the 1898 words of Samuel Gompers, small business owners deserve a day for which the signers of paychecks in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the small employers of our day may not only lay down their cash flow statements for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.

©2002 All Rights

Category: Entrepreneurship
Print page