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Reflections on Labor Day

August 29, 2014 | by Katie Claflin

Categories: Affordable Housing

For most of us, Labor Day is seen as a farewell to summer.  We gather with family and friends, eat too much food, and flock to the nearest body of water in a desperate attempt to escape the Texas heat.

We know that Labor Day was created to celebrate American workers and the labor movement in America.  But did you know that the origins of Labor Day also highlight some serious housing issues faced by American workers? 

According to an article by PBS NewsHour, the workers involved in the Pullman Strike--one of the most influential strikes of the 19th century--were dissatisfied not only with their low wages, but also with their unreasonably high housing costs.

Below is a brief summary of the article:

The strike that ultimately led to the creation of Labor Day took place in 1894 at a railroad car company in Pullman, Illinois.  George Pullman, the founder of the company, established Pullman, Illinois in 1880 as a company town for his employees.  The town was organized according to class, with row houses assigned to the factory workers, modest Victorian homes for the managers, and a plush hotel for Pullman and his guests.

The town operated smoothly for more than a decade; however, in 1893 the nation was caught in an economic depression.  Pullman laid off hundreds of employees and reduced the wages of those who remained by one third.  However, he did not reduce rent prices accordingly, leaving many workers unable to pay rent with their reduced wages.  Demanding both increased wages and reduced rent prices, the workers went on strike.

Although the workers failed to achieve their goals, they attracted widespread sympathy, and President Grover Cleveland helped draft and pass national legislation creating Labor Day less than a week after the strike ended. 

Source: PBS Newshour, “The Origins of Labor Day” September 2, 2001. Accessed on August 19, 2014. 

Photo Credit:
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, v. 70, no. 417. “Pullman: Working Men’s Cottages,” 1885.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, v. 70, no. 417. “Pullman:The Arcade and Public Square,” 1885.

As we gather with family and friends this Labor Day, let us all reflect on the efforts our grandparents and great grandparents made to secure many of the freedoms and rights that we enjoy today.  However, it is also important to remember that there are still many Texas workers who cannot access housing that is affordable for their income.  

Now is a time for all of us to renew our commitment to serving the housing needs of Texas’ most vulnerable families and individuals. We look forward to continuing our work together to provide affordable housing options to Texas workers and their families.

Next blog post: How Much Down Payment Do You Need to Buy a Home?

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