Friday, September 09, 2005

Labor Day in Tampa, Florida

September 5, 2005 (Monday)
Tampa, Florida
6:30 p.m.

After a three-hour Delta Air flight from New York I am now in Tampa, Florida, virtually a ghost town because it’s a holiday (Labor Day). A few tourists were in the streets and on the promenade along the river, which they call here the Channel.

I am staying in another Wyndham hotel here in Harbour Island. It’s called the Harbour Island Hotel.

I have to walk several blocks and shell out $27 for lunch in a Thai restaurant after depositing my things in my room. All other shops were closed for the holiday.

Commenting on the holiday, Keith Epstein of The Tampa Tribune says:

“There was a time – more than a century ago – when Labor Day presented a reverse image. It meant what it was called: a day to focus on the rights of workers, not the national right to barbecue.

“The point wasn’t a day at the beach but a demonstration in a city square. People would picnic and carry signs that, for instance, reminded chieftains of industry that “Labor Creates All Wealth,” or demanded “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation” – goals still elusive for some workers.”

Unions in the United States in 1882 envisioned the holiday as a tribute to their strength and solidarity, said Epstein. He said the annual celebration of workers rights spread with parades and demonstrations.

The labor unrest shut down mail trains and worried politicians in Washington and railway bosses. Congress passed a law in 1884 making Labor Day a federal holiday. It was aimed to make a conciliatory gesture to voters who were upset over a violent crackdown on workers by President Cleveland.

Cleveland deployed troops to break the railroad strike. He declared: “If it takes the entire Army and Navy of the United States to deliver a postcard in Chicago, that card will be delivered.”

Deputy Marshals shot at protesters. At least two people were reported killed. To appease the protestors, Cleveland urged Congress to declare Labor Day a holiday.

Epstein, however, observed that Labor Day not only lost its original meaning but also interest in membership in labor unions declined and the labor movement seems to have become irrelevant and divided.

There’s nothing much to see here in Tampa, at least where I am staying. The buildings and avenues look new. Even the trolley cars that go around Tampa are new. Yachts are docked near the hotel. Across the river is Tampa Convention Center. Far ahead on Franklin Street are the offices. It looks like Makati on a Sunday.

I still have to discover the city. I’m going out now with Alan for a round of beer.

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