Labor Day in the U.S. -- at least these folks care.
September 2, 2002 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Labor Day in the U.S. -- at least these folks care. Who could forget the joys of child labor? Or the beatings utilized by Ford and other companies to keep workers in line? Or the 11 children killed during the Ludlow Massacre? If you could use a refresher course on the General Textile Strike of 1934, the Pullman Strike of 1894 or the explosive Haymarket Affair, here's a good place to start. People strike in other countries, too, you know. It's always good to remember how you earned Your Rights As Workers. [Feel free to post more labor history links inside]
posted by mediareport (40 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for the timely and much needed links, mediareport, this time I will read first and comment thereafter, if at all...

Boy, judging from lofi mefi, I know of one worker who's not taking the day off--and thank god!
posted by y2karl at 10:58 AM on September 2, 2002

Everybody send love to mathowie right now. :)
posted by mediareport at 11:00 AM on September 2, 2002

an account of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and resulting labor laws.
posted by amberglow at 11:03 AM on September 2, 2002

I would, but I gotta go to work in a few minutes. The news may stop sometimes, but that doesn't mean our coverage does!
posted by Vidiot at 11:09 AM on September 2, 2002

Also please recall that labor unions have been steqadily eroding and have gone way down in membership in recent years. The U.S. and S. Africa are the only idustrialized nations that allow for permanent replacements of those on strike, and thus, given a labor shortage (sometimes) Management can always toss out workers on strike and use scabs instead. Witness how many workers in the fast food business have ever been able to organize. Thus the lack of bargaining equity has helped the disparity in wages between management and labor to widen significantly in America but no so in many other countries.
posted by Postroad at 11:10 AM on September 2, 2002

slightly off topic: but why isn't labor day celebrated on the 1st of May in the USA?
posted by ginz at 11:11 AM on September 2, 2002

The Triangle Factory fire of 1911, with many period accounts and reactions to the working conditions.

On preview: looks like I wasn't the only one to think of this, but it seems like we each have different links.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:16 AM on September 2, 2002

ginz, here's a short accounting of the origin (marches here in NY in the 1870's for better working conditions) Skip the beginning and go to the middle.
posted by amberglow at 11:18 AM on September 2, 2002

Great question. Short answer is it grew out of a September 1892 protest by NYC workers, and was made into law after the Pullman strike was crushed by federal troops two years later. More:

The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

1894 was an election year.

posted by mediareport at 11:19 AM on September 2, 2002

To add to the list of references, don't forget Howard Zinn's 'A People's History of the United States'. Besides Laborists, it has a history of blacks, women, American Indians and war resisters.
posted by michaelonfs at 11:23 AM on September 2, 2002

Kelly--your link is much more complete : >
This i never knew:
Eight months after the fire, a jury acquitted Blanck and Harris, the factory owners, of any wrong doing. The task of the jurors had been to determine whether the owners knew that the doors were locked at the time of the fire....
...Grieving families and much of the public felt that justice had not been done. "Justice!" they cried. "Where is justice?"...
...Twenty-three individual civil suits were brought against the owners of the Asch building. On March 11, 1913, three years after the fire, Harris and Blanck settled. They paid 75 dollars per life lost....

$75 per life lost?!?
posted by amberglow at 11:24 AM on September 2, 2002

Good article in yesterday's NY Times about the complicated public perceptions regarding blue-collar labor. Simply put, America is much more willing to give credit to the blue-collar workforce in the wake of 9/11 (and to a lesser extent, the recent mine flooding in Pennsylvania) and the overall air of mistrust regarding corporations and finance. However, many blue-collar workers still charge that they aren't being paid a living wage.

In large part, I agree; I don't know why the teacher at the school down the street or the cop on the corner is getting paid far less than the faceless jokers who are making my 401K implode. Also interesting how, say, plumbing is a much less prestigious occupation than white-collar jobs which pay far less.
posted by Vidiot at 11:25 AM on September 2, 2002

I couldn't find a good link that addresses the conflicts between labor and mine owners out west around the turn of the century, but Big Trouble did an excellent job of exploring them and putting them in context.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:32 AM on September 2, 2002

thanks amberglow & mediareport
posted by ginz at 11:37 AM on September 2, 2002

Regarding May 1...yeah, everybody ELSE celebrates Labor Day then, but here in the USA May 1 is the day we celebrate lawyers. Pretty sick, isn't it. Nothing against lawyers - I'm married to a public defender - but, still...

Growing up in the Fifties, I remember May Day as the day when the missiles went on parade in Red Square.

Then, of course, there's the Pagan May Day thing...
posted by kozad at 11:37 AM on September 2, 2002

It's not all old news either. A fire in a chicken processing plant killed 25 workers 90 years after Triangle Shirtwaist.

Workers attempting to escape through a door marked "Fire Door - Do Not Block" found the door locked and themselves trapped inside the raging inferno. Witnesses said they could hear people inside pounding on the door and screaming "Let me out!"
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:43 AM on September 2, 2002

here's what the U.S. Department of Labor says of the origin of Labor Day--different from both my link and mediareport's....
posted by amberglow at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2002

The Department of Labor is full of it.

There's more to the Labor Day issue than the above links reveal. May day started out as an international protest over the arrest, trial and conviction of several Chicago labor leaders after the Haymarket Incident. It was recognized world wide as a day of labor protest by 1889.

That's the kind of thing those in power wanted to flush down the memory hole, so having it commemorated annually was not going to fly. Instead, the US established a day for picnics and parades in 1894 and called it Labor Day.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:05 PM on September 2, 2002

this is strange, ursus...I don't know of any other national holiday that has this kind of controversy or doubt about its origins--but then the government doesn't have the best record regarding unions and the working poor...
posted by amberglow at 12:11 PM on September 2, 2002

The History of the U.A.W is probably the most noteworthy labor movement in modern U.S History. The Flint Sit Down strike in conjunction with a few other G.M. plants around the country effectively changed the course of alot of labor practices up to this day. (perhaps this why manufacturing has decentralized, harder to co-ordinate strikes, esp when in foreign country !!!!!) A man Central to this was Good old 'engine charley', charles wilson, whom later headed G.M. during WWII, came from a liberal family, socialist for a bit i think (alot of socialists came to power between 1910-1914, mayor of flint was one, circa 1912.) So he had the brains and background to handle these events. (He was a GM v.p. during the strike) Eisenhower later named him Sec. of Defense.
so while these events mediarort list are central to u.s. labor history (funny, all the real violent ones) they almost pale considering that a man whom could have been labeled a socialist, came to run the worlds largest industrial corp. then head up our countrys military. Now this would seem a real...put-on if it where not for the changes in labor practices. (at least with-in the auto biz)
posted by clavdivs at 12:14 PM on September 2, 2002

clavdivs, I wonder what engine charley would say to all the auto plants that moved to other countries (countries without strong labor movements)--was he a company man or more concerned about his fellow man?
posted by amberglow at 12:33 PM on September 2, 2002

While labor's power had been waxing in the thirties, it's been a long, slow, painful decline over the last fifty years or so.

The Taft-Hartley act of 1947 has played a significant role in that decline.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:37 PM on September 2, 2002

ursus, that may be changing--the ups strike and 9/11 helped alot...even bush is reaching out to, instead of trashing, big unions (although it's for votes, not policy)...i think that recent attempts to unionize the service sector may bear fruit too.
posted by amberglow at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2002

At the risk of hijacking the topic, I respectfully suggest that people who support reparations for the descendents of slaves consider that slavery was just one form of abuse of the working class. Indentured servants, miners, mill workers and sharecroppers all labored under conditions that were little different from slavery. As the Triangle Fire incident, mentioned above, suggests, common workers were viewed as little more than cheap, replaceable beasts of burden.

Most of us have ancestors who labored under these conditions. The abuse of the worker is a crime that knows no distinction by race, religion or nation. It is part of our shared experience.
posted by SPrintF at 1:13 PM on September 2, 2002

*gets home from work*

It's labor day?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:41 PM on September 2, 2002

Lewis Hine did great work documenting immigrants and workers (especially child workers) in the first half of the 20th century. Photos can be found here(The fourth image kills me every time I see it), here, here, and info here. You can google up lots more stuff, if you want.
posted by slipperywhenwet at 3:12 PM on September 2, 2002

This is the 40th anniversary of the United Farm Workers. Although the organization is not what it once was, it is still one of the few voices for one of the U.S.'s largest, under-represented labor forces. Child labor in America is alive and well.
posted by vacapinta at 4:14 PM on September 2, 2002

was he a company man or more concerned about his fellow man? both. and he would be spinning in his grave.
posted by clavdivs at 5:35 PM on September 2, 2002

This worship of the lowest common denominator of work is disgusting. I reject the proposition that we celebrate a day in genuflection to unintelligent brawn and the belligerence of organized crime. Perhaps we ought to set aside a day to celebrate more Noble work.
posted by paleocon at 7:23 PM on September 2, 2002

Is this guy for real?! Apparently, he is. I'm going to go out on a limb and surmise that paleocon is NOT a Nobel prize winner himsefl...

You're a twit, paleocon. May a thousand waitresses spit in your food!
posted by hincandenza at 9:02 PM on September 2, 2002

Apparently, he is.

Why make life difficult? paleocon can't possibly be "for real." Anyone who thinks an honest day's labor is only for stupid people -- or that scientists don't slave just as hard for The Man as brawny laborers -- obviously has his head up his ass so far he's entered another dimension entirely. Viva la revolucion of intelligent indolence!
posted by mediareport at 10:22 PM on September 2, 2002

Indentured servants, miners, mill workers and sharecroppers all labored under conditions that were little different from slavery. As the Triangle Fire incident, mentioned above, suggests, common workers were viewed as little more than cheap, replaceable beasts of burden.

That was frighteningly common. In the South it wasn't unusual for newly arrived Irish immigrants to be hired for jobs that were very high risk, since the loss of a slave would be costly while the immigrant could easily be replaced by someone else desperate for work. I've seen more than one period source that mentions how useful the Irish were in that respect, urging slaveowners to think of them instead of putting their valuable property at risk. (I can't recall the specific documents, but they were reprinted in this book which is boxed away somewhere.)
It wasn't much better in the North, either. The Erie Canal, bypassing Niagara Falls on the Niagara River in Western NY, is basically a massive grave of Irish immigrants.

I'm sure other groups had similar situations, as well. I just happen to have studied Irish-American history, so I know about those.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:26 PM on September 2, 2002

Not to intrude on this organized labor love fest, but if you want to talk about corruption and mismanagement, corporations don't provide the best example -- instead you should be looking at unions.

Organized labor is a good thing in principle. The reality, however, is often anything but. For the average worker, the union often provides a shield protecting endless absences, acts of sabotage, crass and crude behavior, featherbedding, etc., etc., etc.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:21 AM on September 3, 2002

the union often provides a shield protecting endless absences, acts of sabotage, crass and crude behavior, featherbedding, etc., etc., etc.

i knew someone here worked on the line;)
that is so true of todays worker BUT
there are a lot of hard workers on the line, not
all 'get over'. but man, before these last rounds of U.A.W. strikes, I had little sympathy left for these workers.
posted by clavdivs at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2002

Images such as this one are great counter-arguments when folks start going on about the "gold ol' days" when children weren't faced with all the troubles of today's corrupt society, with the drugs and the gangs and Brittney and what-not. Thanks!
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:14 AM on September 3, 2002

there are a lot of hard workers on the line, not
all 'get over'.

That is absolutely true, clavdivs, no doubt about it. But this is definitely a case where a few bad apples spoil the bunch. In fact, I feel sorry for the hard workers who watch their co-workers abuse the system. It's no fun to do your job, motivated by nothing more than the fact that it's the right thing to do, and have to watch someone else goof off with impunity.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:25 AM on September 3, 2002

Students in Colorado Have created a Simulation of the Flint Sit-Down Strike (java applet)
posted by worldinflux at 10:49 AM on September 3, 2002

cool site from colorado. but a few mistakes in the intro. no where near 5000 armed men inside the plants. also i dont see the Black legion, KKK, or communists in the SIM. But thats ok, intersting link WIF, thanks.

PY: true, it is a hard issue to deal with . Micheal Moores' 'Roger and Me' was treated with antipathy by a majority of workers here in Flint. Since i grew up around here, alot of my friends have members of thier families on the line, as contractors and mangement. The stories i could tell...ok, one. a mefi friend has a friend whom serviced vending machines. one day he went in to restock and could not find the vending machine. The workers had welded the machine to the roof. a large lift was brought in for the service guy. he serviced it twice i believe, on the roof (roof on the inside of the plant) Plus alot of friends parents went to school. a few lawyers, seperate contracting business, teachers. the get over days are limited if not all but gone. Here in Flint they still get over a bit. I am anti-union but do not wish to see the union go. they did alot for our folk in the beginning.
posted by clavdivs at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2002

Re: Labor Day and May Day.

Here in Western Australia, Labour Day used to be celebrated on May 1. Then the Cold War started and it was moved (May Day was a bit too bolshie for some people -- the unions decided a move would help distinguish them from the stalinists).

Now the Cold War's over and some unionists want it moved back.
posted by robcorr at 5:46 AM on September 4, 2002

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