Labor Day

I was doing my usual reading in the internet world and ran across this comment to another commenter who claimed Labor Day is a made up holiday. A lot of history in this reply:

“‘A made-up holiday that never had a great basis for its existence?’

How about the Ludlow Massacre where 57 miners were killed by Rockefeller guards that set fire to miners tents even though they were on private property? Their union leader was held by two militia members and shot in the back by a third. All they wanted was mine safety, their own doctor instead of a company doctor, an eight-hour day, fair pay and a union. Or how about the five workers shot in the back at McCormick Iron Works as they ran from armed guards. They too were just demonstrating for an eight-hour day and better working conditions generally. How about the women who died in a shirt manufacturing factory in New York? They died because they were deliberately locked in a room with no way out when the building caught on fire. How about the workers hung in Chicago after the Haymarket Riot because the Chicago Tribune just about sealed their fate with a horrific attack on them? The Governor of Illinois pardoned others scheduled to be hung because of what he thought was shaky evidence. What about the five marchers shot by police in a Hunger march in Detroit in the middle of the Depression? Or what about the Battle of the Overpass, where UAW organizers were beaten and bloodied by Ford thugs while the Dearborn police stood by and watched. That is except for one time when they stopped the Ford goons from further beating on a lady unionist. The police thought Fords thugs were going to kill the lady. What about Walter Reuther, who was picked up an thrown down again over three flights of stairs, probably avoided being killed because some reporters saw what was happening, picked Reuther up and threw him in their car, then drove away. Then there was the Homestead strike at Carnegie’s steel mill in Pennsylvania—more unionists killed.

How about the practice of blackballing workers if they gave management any grief? It was common practice for owners to put the word out about a worker to other businesses if that worker was deemed a problem or in favor of a union. A blackball meant that a worker would not be hired by other businesses. Indeed, the leader of the Homestead union, nicknamed Lucky by the way, was blackballed and could not find work in this country. He was last seen working in a mine in Mexico.

Closer to home, the accepted narrative is that Henry Ford was a generous man. He wanted his employees to be able to purchase the cars that they were manufacturing. So he started the five dollar day pay rate. Ford deserves his elevated place in history because he was a pioneer in the standardization of parts necessary for mass production. That being said, the five dollar a day came about, not because Ford cared about his employees, but because the annual employee turnover rate was 309%. Work conditions were so bad in Ford’s factory that nobody would stick around. Ford had to replace his entire workforce three times a year. He had to pay five dollars a day to keep the workforce in his shop. Even then Ford’s Sociology Department could enter your home for inspection. If your lifestyle dissatisfied Ford, you did not get five dollars a day.

Let’s touch briefly on the law and government, starting with the Clayton and Sherman Anti-Trust laws. Inspired by the great trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt, those laws were clearly intended to hinder a monopoly condition by business interests, Unfortunately President Grover Cleveland and his Attorney General, Richard Olney, thought differently. When union members went on strike during Cleveland’s administration, they turned the Clayton and Sherman laws on their respective heads, claiming that unions, as monopoly’s, were in restraint of trade, Clearly, that was not the intent of the legislature that created Clayton and Sherman. That’s just one of a ton of examples.

More recently, the Republican legislature and Governor in Michigan passed an anti-union Right to Work bill. Then they attached a financial appropriation to the bill, in affect disallowing Michigan citizens from putting the issue on the ballot through a referendum procedure,

From the Republican’s point of view, that’s probably a good thing as a recent poll shows 64% of Americans favoring unions.

>>> never a great basis for its existence? Aside from the people of color among us, I doubt that any group in this country has so been so hammered and consistently beaten down as America’s workforce. Let’s not forget that today the top 1% are in possession of 40% of the country’s total wealth while wages have been stagnant for forty years. The CEO of Disney makes 1100 times what the average worker makes. If I have read Adam Smith correctly, there is no economic theory that justifies either being the case. Let’s also not forget that our current President has put a corporate lawyer that has spent a lifetime litigating against unions and employees generally at the head of the federal Department of Labor.

Those among us that have grabbed a cup of coffee and a piece of toast on the way to work as employees have earned a special day and much more respect than Matt is able to give us.

I know. I walked on a picket line with one of the brightest, most imaginative, man this country has ever produced — ‘Walter Reuther.'”

Al Churchill’s Comment

Bridge Magazine, “Labor Day has lost some luster, as partisanship pulls us apart,” Phil Power, August 30, 2019

Comments (12) | |