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Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Hine’

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

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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.

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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.

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Watching the video the other day of the Rose Garden hullabaloo with the faces of the wealthy and predominantly white men all gleefully gloating the mere passage of a House bill that has the potential to do far more harm than good made me angry and ashamed for this country.  To see them so wildly exulting something that does nothing to address the very real problems that exist in the availability and delivery of healthcare to our citizens is an abomination. They shift around some money to the advantage of those already well endowed and they celebrate like they personally defeated an alien force hellbent on overthrowing the Earth.

What drives these people? I am sure that if asked, they would spew the requisite “they’re there to serve the people“nonsense. But they seem to believe, if their actions are evidence of any sort, that the people they must serve the most are the people who need their assistance the least.

Do these men in congress really know the true extent and face of poverty or is it just an abstract notion, anonymous and in the distance? Personally, I believe they should be speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, that they should be acting in order to lift those in need. Instead, they seem quite content in enriching their own bank accounts and those of their cronies while they do little, if anything, for the greater good.

Maybe they should take a few minutes and look at some of the photos of Lewis Hine, the photo-journalist and social activist.  His powerful photos taken around the turn of the century brought to light the plight of working children and spurred on the union movement that brought about great reforms for workers across the nation. Perhaps if they studied the faces of the children in these photos, they would get a better understanding of what should be their own purpose in their positions of responsibility. Those faces can still be found today, if they would only take the time to look.

Here’s a nice slideshow of some of Hine’s photos set to the Gary Jules version of the Tears For Fears song, Mad World.

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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.

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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

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I thought I had mentioned the work of photographer Paul Strand here before but can’t seem to locate it.   Strand lived from 1890 until 1976 and was part of the Modernist era of the early 2oth century, using his camera to capture the urban landscape’s abstracted forms in a way that no photographer had to that time.  The image shown here, Wall Street, is perhaps one of his most famous.

His portraiture is also quite striking.  Doing a Google image search, the page is immediately filled with multiple fairly closely cropped images of  faces in black and white.  They’re shot in a way that might make you think it would be difficult to discern any particular photographer’s eye but seeing them altogether shows clearly how he saw his subjects and show the continuity in his work.  Strand was a student of the great Lewis Hine and carried on Hine’s use of the camera as a tool for social reform.  His photos of the inhabitants of the city streets are powerful and gritty.

One of his projects was a film, Manhatta,  with the great Modernist painter/photographer Charles Sheeler, another of my favorites.  It is a really interesting view of the bustling, swelling city from 1921 taken from Strand’s and Sheeler’s unique perspectives.  Just great imagery.

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I just love this photo.  It’s a classic from around 1920 from the great Lewis Hine, the photographer who is best known for his photos of children at work in the mines, factories and fields of  early 20th century America, images which aided in the crusade for child labor laws.  Hard to believe but nationwide child labor laws weren’t fully enacted as law until 1938, about 30 years after Hine started his documentation.  I will show some of those photos at another time.  They are extremely powerful and human and should be seen by those of us with short memories for our not so distant past.

But Hine also was fascinated by the interaction of the worker with the machinery in the burgeoning industrial world.  Man and machine.  His photos are very poetic, the beautiful curves of the machine encompassing the straining form of the worker. Beautiful work.

For me, I am reminded of the A&P factory where I worked for several years as a candy cook.  Our equipment was ancient, much of it built in the 20’s and 30’s with these same curves and weightiness of material.  I always felt like the building was one large machine with multiple parts and we, the workers,  were a sort of  flexible cogs that connected the various parts.  I often felt dwarfed by the sheer size and power of some of the machines but after a bit found that there was a wonderful sense of rhythm and empowerment in mastering a machine.  That’s sort of what I see in this photo.

I’m also reminded of a piece of equipment I bought a number of years ago to clear some of my property here.  It was a late 1940’s Allis Chalmers track loader, much like the one shown here.  I spent as much time working on the machine with big wrenches much like the one the worker is using in the Hine photo as I ever did clearing land.   After many headaches, I finally got rid of it after a few years.  But I did come to appreciate the weight and intrinsic beauty of those big tools and still enjoy feeling them in my hands, if only to hold them for a moment.

Here’s a neat little videoon this photo from the George Eastman House, where much of Hine’s work is held.

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