There Is Power In A Union
September 4, 2017 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Happy Labor Day USA! The holiday came about due to the 1894 Pullman Strike and Boycott in which national guardmen shot into a crowd and killed 4. Today, thousands take to the streets to demand higher wages (Twitter moment) as McDonalds workers in the U.K. enact their first ever strike. Canada wants the USA to get rid of union-breaking 'Right-To-Work' laws as part of NAFTA talks and the People's Policy Project (previously) presents a simple bill to pre-empt any Right-To-Work action. Also, was there a strike in space in 1973?
posted by The Whelk (21 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I read about the Pullman Strike in the strangest place just now: The Daily Caller. In news from Alternet about how pissed off John Kelly was being yelled at by his tempestuous Commander-in-Chief, two peripheral issues came up. Trump (who doesn't use computers) was no longer receiving printouts from Breitbart and The Daily Caller.

I read right-wing websites, but hadn't run across this one. It's pretty slipshod. It had a clickbaity headline about the Christian origins of Labor Day, and ended up being an interesting article about the clergy's support of union activity in the late 19th century. So, a right-wing website inadvertently serving up progressive labor history.

This was what we now know as May Day, which is Labor Day everywhere else. Here, in the USA, angry that the Commies celebrated May Day, Eisenhower and company changed May the First to National Law Day.
posted by kozad at 9:02 AM on September 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this post. I knew this stuff before, but I tend to always think of this as a holiday and forget that people suffered and died for so many things we take for granted in the workplace. That someone could work for five years at a company and still not get fixed hours is just disgusting.
posted by gt2 at 9:58 AM on September 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had a neighbor next door, some time ago, he was 98, when we bought our house and moved in. He was a retired railroader, the neighborhood was the second subdivision in Salt Lake City, called the Inglewood Division, mostly railroaders settled there. He said he worked on the engines and the one he worked on used to be downtown in a park, it was moved up to Ogden, Utah. He worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week and that was it, until an African American Pullman talked to him and asked, "Don't you boys have the union?" Bill Wale said that they didn't, and that Pullman sent the union organizers up and Wale said, "Pretty soon we were working 12 hours a day, five days a week, and then it was down to a 40 hour week. That is what the union did for us!" Where my house was built, had been a vacant lot for a long time, where they played horseshoes in their newly acquired spare time. I found a lot of relics when I dug my garden.
posted by Oyéah at 10:18 AM on September 4, 2017 [25 favorites]

There is power in a factory, there is power in the land
There is power in the hands of the worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a union

posted by adept256 at 10:43 AM on September 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I love that Canada is doing that; the art of the deal indeed! But can we stop calling them right-to-work laws? Something more accurate, like right-to-mooch-off-other's-sacrifices laws (right-to-mooch for short)?
posted by TedW at 11:02 AM on September 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

My experience working in libraries is that some are unionized and some are not and I much prefer the ones that are. I'm currently in a union and filing a grievance against my employer over how they made me use vacation time to cover being out on jury duty. It's just such a relief knowing someone's got my back. I don't have to get a lawyer or go it alone. I'm so grateful for those who came before.
posted by Biblio at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Bread and Roses, the strike, and, related, the song.

One of the better recent pro-Union movies: Pride.
posted by gudrun at 11:55 AM on September 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Speaking of Bread and Roses, there's the Ken Loach film of the same name:



...but about a janitorial union drive in Los Angeles.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:39 PM on September 4, 2017

Bread and Roses, the strike, and, related, the song. One of the better recent pro-Union movies: Pride.

And to throw it all together, the song as sung in the movie, which is lovely.

(With thanks to The Whelk, who tweets this video on a regular basis.)
posted by zachlipton at 12:45 PM on September 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Deborah Holland covers "I Am A Union Woman (Join The CIO) by Aunt Molly Jackson.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:55 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Solidarity Forever to all workers today! And to my friends across the border, I hope Canada's NAFTA negotiations help you get rid of those horribly misnamed "Right to Work" laws.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:57 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fire in the Hole

And, of course, Which Side Are You On?
posted by dilettante at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2017

The Latimer Massacre
The Ludlow Massacre
The Columbine Mine Massacre
Anaconda Road Massacre

And on and on and on...

Don't forget the Battle of Matewan, memorialized in the movie Matewan. It would be great if it were available to stream today; I'll look, but probably without success.
posted by TedW at 4:15 PM on September 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Happy Labor Day. Let’s Eliminate “Right-To-Work” Laws. (People's Policy Project):
While enormous amounts of resources are spent fighting the unending state-level creep of “right-to-work” legislation, relatively little attention is paid to the idea of killing all such laws in one fell swoop on the federal level. As with the Employee Free Choice Act, this scarcity of attention is not because it would be practically difficult to do so, but rather because of the belief that Democrats are not willing to do it.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:07 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I mean, I'm all for keeping the idea of ending right-to-work laws fresh in everyone's mind and getting politicians to go on the record about it, but surely the scarcity of attention is because there's nowhere near 60 votes in the Senate to do so right now? And opposing right-to-work is a literal part of the Democratic Party platform.
posted by zachlipton at 10:26 PM on September 4, 2017

"The last time the Democrats had unified control of Congress, an effort was made to enact all these reforms through the Employee Free Choice Act, but the centrist wing of the party prevented the legislation from getting 60 votes in the Senate."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:37 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

My experience working in libraries is that some are unionized and some are not and I much prefer the ones that are.
Since taking over my state's legislature last year, the Republicans' crowning achievement has been a law that disempowers most public sector unions, including the one that represents library workers. (The police and firefighters' unions retain their power, because white supremacy and toxic masculinity.) According to law, most public sector unions now cannot negotiate over anything but pay. They are legally not allowed to negotiate about benefits or working conditions. The government has made it clear that it's going to gut pension, health, and other benefits at the next contract negotiation, and there will be nothing the union can do.

This is the centerpiece of a brutal, far-reaching anti-worker agenda. The Republican legislature passed a law that said no county or municipality could have a minimum wage higher than the state one, which meant an automatic pay-cut for minimum-wage workers in counties that had a higher minimum wage, such as mine. They have lowered worker's compensation rates for people who are injured on the job. They have mandated that any strike arbitration be biased towards bosses. They have gutted funding for public education, shifting costs to students in both four-year and two-year higher-ed programs. (Two-year vocational programs are a lot of working-class students' path to a well-paying job. The median salary for a dental hygienist in my low-cost-of-living, low-wage state is almost $70,000 a year, and that's with a two-year community college degree.) The Democrats in my state are not always great, but it turns out that they were the only bulwark against some seriously dire shit that is hitting working people in deeply concrete ways. I'm a non-unionized public sector employee, and it's hitting me, although not yet as much as it's hitting my colleagues who are in the union.

So I'm not feeling super sanguine on this Labor Day. I'm also not convinced that this post gets at the heart of the issues that are facing labor, organized and otherwise, out here in the hinterlands.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:17 AM on September 5, 2017 [11 favorites]

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