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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

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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There’s a tombstone in a local cemetery that we walk by nearly every day. I look at it nearly every time we pass and it always makes me smile. Below the name and the dates of his lifespan are the words Grade A Milkman. All I can think is what great pride this man took in his job before he passed away at an early age. It reminds me of a post from several years back that I ran for the Labor Day weekend. It fits here for this Grade A Milkman.

A little postscript: After years of walking by this grave, a bit of research revealed that this fellow was my mother’s 3rd cousin. Makes me smile even a little more.

Here’s the post from back in 2013:

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If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

Another Labor Day weekend is here. On this blog in the past I have bemoaned how the general public has forgot how much it owes to the labor movement, how the middle class that was the pride of this country during the middle of the last century was a direct result of hard fought gains from workers who banded together and stood against social injustice. But today I just want to speak briefly about taking pride in one’s job, the same sentiment reflected in the quote above from Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was a waiter in a pancake house, even after I had started showing my work in several galleries, I was always a waiter first when I was at my job. Never a painter-slash-waiter, a title which served no purpose. Circumstances had put me in this place at this time and I had determined that if I had to be there I would give it my complete attention and effort. I would make it my own. If I disliked it so much that it made me miserable, I would do something about changing my job when my day there was done and the task before me was complete.

But while I was there, I treated it as though it were my destiny because, who knew, maybe it was. I took great pride in being good at that job and some other jobs that I’ve done that could be classified as menial. What was the cost in doing this? If I had to be there then I would rather be recognized for my excellence than for my displayed misery.

Simply put, take pride in the task before you, however menial you see it. Find pride in the toil and treat it as your destiny because, in that very moment, it is.

Have a great Labor Day weekend and remember what the day stands for.

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Silence is not neutrality.

Silence is not a shield.

Silences relinquishes your voice and opinion to others, enabling those who seek power through division, disunity and deceptions.

Silence is the approval that allows dark deeds to exist in this world.

Silence is complicity to the darkness.

In things that matter, silence is surrender. 

 

 

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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.

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

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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GC Myers- The Task Met smallIf a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

Another Labor Day is here.  On this blog in the past I have bemoaned how the general public has forgot how much it owes to the labor movement, how the middle class that was the pride of this country during the middle of the last century was a direct result of hard fought gains from workers who banded together and stood against social injustice.  But today I just want to speak briefly about taking pride in one’s job, the same sentiment reflected in the quote above from Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was a waiter in a pancake house, even after I had started showing my work in several galleries, I was always a waiter first when I was at my job.  Never a painter-slash-waiter, a title which served no purpose.  Circumstances had put me in this place at this time and I had determined that if I had to be there I would give it my complete attention and effort.  I would make it my own.  If I disliked it so much that it made me miserable, I would do something about changing my job when my day there was done and the task before me was complete.

 But while I was there, I treated it as though it were my destiny because, who knew, maybe it was.  I took great pride in being good at that job and some other jobs that I’ve done that could be classified as menial.  What was the cost in doing this?  If I had to be there then I would rather be recognized for my excellence rather than my misery.

Simply put, take pride in the task before you, however menial you see it.  Treat it as your destiny because in that very moment, it is.

Have a great Labor Day and remember what the day stands for.

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I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear
—-Martin Luther King, Jr.

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This morning, on the day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., has me thinking about those who dream of a perfect world.  The cynic in me says that this is a pipedream, that perfection is beyond human means.  That we are flawed and doomed creatures.  But the optimist in me says that perhaps we are never as  far from perfection as we seem.  That we have the possibility of an ideal world near at hand if we could only push aside our hatred and our pettiness long enough to take notice.   As King said, Hate is too great a burden to bear.  And all too many of us are weighed down with hatreds that sap of us our energy, our joy and our ability to see the beauity and possibility of the world around us.

 I have chose the piece above to illustrate this thought because it is to me a representation of a world where the burden of hatred is cast aside.  Called In a Perfect World, this piece is about the ideal setting where the individual can exist without bias, without envy or anger– freed from all the draining negativity of such hatred.  Of course, this is a place that can only exist inside each of us.  It must first become our internal landscape because real change must take effect internally before it can become a greater reality. 

So for now, this perfect world may only exist on this canvas or in my mind.  But maybe one day, it could become a real landscape.  What do we have to lose?

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The official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is set for today in Washington, DC.  When thinking about King, the thing that always comes to mind for me is a sense of a grand dignity that demnded respect even from those who stood in direct opposition to the things for which he stood.  It manifested itself in a steadfast and calm manner that really evoked the righteousness of his cause.  At least, that’s what comes to my mind.  Qualities that we all should aspire to, especially those who choose public service as a career.

I came across this wonderful version of the gospel song, Lord Don’t Move the Mountain, by the great Mahalia Jackson that really seemed to fit the day and the occasion.  I was not raised with religion or faith as large parts of my life but I am moved by the faith that is evident in the power of Mahalia Jackson’s singing on this song and several others.  Like I wrote of King above, there is a grand dignity to it.

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