Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Labor Unions’

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

*************************

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

************************

Another Labor Day.

If you ask someone what the holiday represents they will no doubt say that it is symbolic end of summer. A last picnic. One last real summer weekend at the lake or shore. If you push them they might finally say that it honors the workers of this country.

But it really was created to celebrate the American Labor Movement, those unions and organizers that brought about all of the changes that Dr. King pointed out in the quote above from his 1965 speech before the AFL-CIO.

Fair wages, a shorter workday, a safer workplace, pensions, unemployment insurance, vacations, maternity leave, paid holidays such as today– all of these things came from the hard and dangerous efforts of union organizers.

As King points out, the owners– the captains of industry— did not agree willingly to these changes. No, they fought with every resource at their disposal including the influence they bought from politicians and the use of violence. The history of the labor movement is littered with bodies of workers killed in skirmishes with the forces of the owners.

Every step of progress throughout our history has been opposed by those in power. But progress and change has always come thanks to the efforts of people like those in the labor movement.

The use of children in the workforce was another thing that was ultimately changed by the labor movement. It’s hard to believe that the scenes shown here in the famed photos of  photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine took place just over a hundred years ago in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. Harder yet to believe is that federal labor laws for child labor were not fully enacted until 1938. Earlier attempts at legislation by congress in 1916 and 1922 had been challenged in court by industry and were deemed unconstitutional.

Lewis Hine -Penn Coal Co Ewen Breaker Pittston 1911Imagine your child (or your nephew or grandchild) at age 12. Imagine them spending 10 or 12 or even 14 hours a day, six days a week in one of the breaker rooms of a coal mine like the one shown here on the right. Hunched over in the gritty dust of the coal, they picked the coal for differing sizes and to sort out impurities. Imagine the men who are shown in the photo with sticks poking your child, perhaps kicking him to speed him up. Imagine all of this for  seven and a half cents per hour.

There was no school books for these kids. No soccer. No violin practices. No college preps. Just a future filled with misery and drudgery and most likely a black lung. Imagine that. And think that it was all taking place less than a hundred years ago and it ended because of the labor unions and the brave and conscientious people who fought for them.

I know there are problems that arose in the unions over time. They are not perfect by any means. But that doesn’t take away from the incredible progress that they provided for our nation’s worker. Despite their shortcomings, the idea of workers uniting to have one strong voice is as important now as it was a century ago. Perhaps even more now that corporate power and political influence is as great as any time in our history.

So celebrate the day at the shore or in a picnic. Have a great day. But take one single moment and think of those kids in that Pennsylvania mine and the people who fought to set them free.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. For some of their names see labels 1927 to 1930. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. (See label #1949). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, South Pittston, Pennsylvania- Lewis Hines

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

************************

Another Labor Day.

If you ask someone what the holiday represents they will no doubt say that it is symbolic end of summer.  A last picnic.  One last real summer weekend at the lake or shore. If you push them they might finally say that it honors the workers of this country.

But it really was created to celebrate the American Labor Movement, those unions and organizers that brought about all of the changes that Dr. King pointed out in the quote above from his 1965 speech before the AFL-CIO.

Fair wages, a shorter workday, a safer workplace, pensions, unemployment insurance– all of these things came from the hard and dangerous efforts of union organizers.  As King points out, the owners– the captains of industry—  did not agree willingly to these changes.  No, they fought with every resource at their disposal including the influence they bought from politicians and the use of violence.  The history of the labor movement is littered with bodies of workers killed in skirmishes with the forces of the owners.

Every step of progress throughout our history has been opposed by those in power.  But progress and change has always come thanks to the efforts of  people like those in the labor movement.

The use of children in the workforce was another thing that was ultimately changed by the labor movement.  It’s hard to believe that the scenes shown here in the famed photos of  photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine took place just over a hundred years ago in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania.  Harder yet to believe is that federal labor laws for child labor were not fully enacted until 1938.  Earlier attempts at legislation by congress in 1916 and 1922 had been challenged in court by industry and were deemed unconstitutional.

Lewis Hine -Penn Coal Co Ewen Breaker Pittston 1911Imagine your child (or your nephew or grandchild) at age 12.  Imagine them spending 10 or 12 or even 14 hours a day, six days a week in one of the breaker rooms of a coal mine like the one shown here on the right.  Hunched over in the gritty dust of the coal, they picked the coal for differing sizes and to sort out impurities.  Imagine the men who are shown in the photo with sticks poking your child, perhaps kicking him to speed him up.  Imagine all of this for  seven and a half cents per hour.

There was no school books for these kids.  No soccer.  No violin practices.  Just a future filled with misery and drudgery and most likely a black lung.  Imagine that.  And think that it was all taking place less than a hundred years ago and it ended because of the labor unions and the brave people who fought for them.

I know there are problems that arose in the unions over time.  They are not perfect by any means.  But that doesn’t take away from the incredible progress that they provided for our nation’s worker.  Despite their shortcomings, the idea of workers uniting to have one strong voice is as important now as it was a century ago.

So celebrate the day at the shore or in a picnic.  Have a great day.  But take one single moment and think of those kids in that Pennsylvania mine and the people who set them free.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. For some of their names see labels 1927 to 1930. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co.Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. Photo: Lewis Hine

Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. (See label #1949). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Group of Breaker boys, Pennsylvania 1911  Photo: Lewis Hine

Read Full Post »

History of Labor in the State of Maine- Judy Taylor Studio

This is a mural that adorns the Department of Labor in the state of Maine. Measuring 8′ high by 36′ long, it was created by Maine artist Judy Taylor in  2007/2008 to commemorate significant moments in Maine’s labor history, including the adoption of child labor laws, better working conditions for all workers and the increasing signifigance of women in the labor force.  It also memorializesMaine native  Frances Perkins, who was the Secretary of Labor under FDR, the first female to hold any cabinet post.  It glorifies the plight of the worker in an appropriate setting, the Department of Labor, and is a striking and significant piece of public art.

Maybe it’s just me but this seems like a no-brainer but recently this mural has come under attack.  Maine Governor Paul LePage (R)  has ordered that is be taken down as he has had complaints from business factions that it is unfairly biased against business owners.  As proof, they released an anonymous fax signed “A Secret Admirer” who claimed that he felt he was in North Korea viewing public political propaganda and this was nothing more than an effort to further the Union movement. 

The governor also plans to change the name of several meeting rooms in the building named after people in the Maine labor movement.

From looking at the mural and its short descriptions of each panel ( to do so, click on the image above and it will take you the artist’s site), I saw only moments of history that elevated the average worker and protected the vulnerable from exploitation.  How anyone could see child labor laws as being biased against business and not a positive step forward for our society is beyond me.  And this is in the Department of LABOR.   But there is a movement afoot to squash the labor movement, mainly trade unions,  in this country which many think people will not affect them and their lives.  After all, how many people are union members today?  But there is more at stake with this attack than the rights of the unions.

It is both a beginning erosion of the rights we have garnered through the efforts of labor unions and others in the past and a political maneuver to destroy the only organized group that represents the worker in any political sense.  Unions are the only organized political donors who somewhat check the unbridled money injected by business concerns into the political arena.  And even the money spent by unions pales in comparison to that spent by businesses and their lobbyists.  But it is still opposition and must be destroyed and this move by Gov. LePage is symptomatic of this effort.  Demonize and destroy.

I might have a kinder eye toward the efforts of LePage and his ilk if they gave me a reason but all I can see is that our manufacturing base has been stripped away and moved to places around the world where these companies can operate like they were mill or mine owners in the 19th century.  I have even heard recent rumblings that child labor laws are considered unconstitutional in some circles.  These political leaders seem bent on doing whatever they can to take us back to a pre-union world and this small effort to take away an innocuous mural in a government building (the Dept. of LABOR!) is yet another step. 

We must continue to speak out against this sort of action.

Sorry for straying into the political world but they baited me when they crossed into the art world.

Read Full Post »

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

**********************************

I had promised myself that I would stop interjecting political views into this forum but watching the events of the last week taking place in Wisconsin and across this country has forced me to break that promise.  Labor is, and has been for some time, under attack from the so-called captains of industry and their minions in government and that is truly a tragic event for the working class of this country, many of whom have no idea of the history behind the labor movement.  Most don’t realize that many of the things they take for granted  in the workplace , like a 40 hour workweek and minimum wages, are there because of workers from prior generations banding together to demand tolerable working conditions and a living wage.  They can’t see that unions have raised the boats of all workers, union and non-union. 

This nation has been seeing a decline in the middle class for some time now, with there now being the greatest disparity in wealth between the upper and lower classes since the years just before the Great Depression.  It has been shown historically that we prosper as a whole when the workers of this country prosper and the workers are under attack now.  We have been convinced in the great echo chamber of the media controlled by powerful corporations that taxcuts and bailouts for corporations (the faceless captains of industry) are acceptable and necessary, costing us countless billions of dollars.  It is forbidden to ask corporations making billions of dollars in profits to pay their true tax liabilities without concessions but to demand that the rights and benefits of those with the least power, the workers, be sacrificed is acceptable.  

Those in power, and those who kowtow to them, will always seek more and more from those they hold power over and will use all the means within their reach to hold on to this staus quo.  As King said, the prosperity of the middle class was not given freely by the captains of industry.  They were forced in to it and the nation as a whole, the powerful included, benefitted.

There’s so much to say on this subject, so many words to spew out about the value of the working class and how we must lift it back to its feet if we ever hope to once again see widespread prosperity in this country.  Too many for this simple blog.  This is not a small fight in Wisconsin.  It affects all America and should not be taken lightly.  Unions have long been demonized and, admittedly, have had some problems.   But we need the unions if only as a firewall against the ever increasing greed of the powerful and to give many small voices a larger voice. 

As the great Union leader John L. Lewis said: Let the workers organize. Let the toilers assemble. Let their crystallized voice proclaim their injustices and demand their privileges. Let all thoughtful citizens sustain them, for the future of Labor is the future of America.

Stand strong, Wisconsin.

——————————————–

After I posted this I came across an interesting article by Constitutional scholar Linda Monk titled How Unions Saved the Constitution that states:

Make no mistake: What is at risk in Wisconsin, and every state in America, is the quality of life that American workers have fought — and died — for during the past century. When plutocrats like the Koch brothers tell the governor of an American state to roll back the clock on public employees, they are seeking to end protections for all workers. The Kochs are part of an ideological movement that hopes to end all legislation controlling wages, hours, and workplace safety — returning America to a “Social Darwinism” that ensures survival of the fittest (read: richest). This is the constitutional theory that prevailed before the New Deal. To these extremists, Ayn Rand is on par with James Madison.

If you can, plesase check out this article.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: