Labor Day Weekend: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Labor Day was first celebrated in New York, September 5, 1882. By 1884 the first Monday in September became the designated day to honor the workers of our country. Over the next 125+ year’s celebration of the holiday has changed from picnics in inner-city parks to family gatherings and backyard barbecues.
Last holiday of summer: Labor Day is the last long holiday of the summer season and families with children often take advantage of the extra long weekend to visit family. In recent years more than 40 million Americans have taken to the highways, air, rail, and other means of transport – over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house they go. But this year the recession has AAA predicting that a mere 39.1 million will travel more than 50 miles. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a long cold winter so enjoy the last days of summer and the fall, then batten down your hatches.
Tragedy in Clairton: This Labor Day weekend also brings news of tragedy to a community that was born and built upon the backs of labor. Clairton, PA is a frequent topic of this blog. We have reviewed the history of the community and the various transitions it has encountered from being Indian country, to mostly rural farmland, to small businesses then the rise and fall of the giant steel industry. We’ve discussed the immigrants from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, as well as African Americans who came to work in the thriving steel mills and coke works. There was occasional labor unrest and even a little political corruption, but as the song says, “Even the bad times were good.”
Not-so-stainless steel turns to rust: The halcyon days of Clairton eventually passed as many of her sons and daughters went off to school and work and war, and far too many only returned to visit aging parents. As one mill after another closed its rusted doors Clairton joined so many other cities in the area, particularly those up and down the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers in becoming part of the rust belt. One of the few beacons of hope that stood tall as its neighbors eroded back into the earth was Clairton Works. Using outdated equipment that earned Clairton and neighbor Glassport the distinction of being two of the top four polluting localities in the U.S. the Clairton Works limped along. Promises for a multimillion dollar upgrade that would result in the emission of cleaner air and added jobs, became one more broken promise to the City of Prayer.
Please, give us something, anything to cheer about: As the population of Clairton declined so did the school population. Clairton High School, once a powerhouse in sports from football to swimming, and having spawned students to at least three neighboring schools shrank in size and prestige. The town became known, perhaps unfairly, as a haven for thugs, druggies, and welfare cases. The older generation that occupied so many classic brick homes died off or moved into senior care facilities and their homes often sat vacant for years as real estate values plummeted. But the football team, known for its tough play, continued to be a source of pride. Even the Midget teams that a few years ago went a total of 24-0 were banned from the playoffs. The Clairton High School football team last year won the WPIAL and went on to state to lose a heartbreaker. Clairton still had its two proud assets: Bears football and the Clairton Coke Works. The latter employs about 1,000, many of whom are Clairton residents.