Remembering Labor, on Labor Day


Here in the U.S. we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September. Throughout much of the rest of the world, Labor Day is May 1. The U.S. changed that because international labor movements, especially communists, celebrated the day (remember the annual parade of missiles and tanks in the old Soviet Union’s Red Square?); U.S. politicians wanted there to be no confusion that the U.S. doesn’t endorse communism. September honors America’s early union movement appropriately, too — the first Labor Day parade in New York City was on September 5, 1882.

America has much good labor history to celebrate, however, and we should make more of it. Textbooks we have in Texas classrooms tend to shortchange the labor movement, and especially the notable social gains made because of labor in wages, benefits like health care and vacations, civil rights, etc. Teachers need to supplement labor history offerings to keep kids up with Texas standards.

Memphis garbage workers in 1968

Memphis Sanitation Workers, striking in 1968, for suitable wages and treatment as human beings. It was in support of this strike that Martin Luther King, Jr., was in Memphis when he was assassinated. Photo by Richard L. Copley, from Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library’s I AM A MAN exhibit. You can sponsor a traveling version of this exhibit.

Wonderful materials are available, and the history of labor is rich with gripping stories, outstanding music, touching photographs, and the human interest that makes history worthwhile, and interesting.

Michigan in Pictures has a post commemorating the 1936-1937 Flint, Michigan, sit-down strike by General Motors employees. Several useful links come out of that post, too, including one to the HistoricalVoices.org feature on the strike, with audio.

Flint sit-down strike, 1936-1937

ChristineBarry.com features a link to a GM-produced film about the workers, produced just a few months before the strike, “Master Hands.” She has earlier posts on the strike, too.

The Newshour at PBS had a good feature on Labor Day back in 2001. The U.S. Department of Labor has an official history of the day, too.

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) shows concern for current workers on Labor Day 2006. There are links to historical sources, too.

My father had been a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters, working on Liberty Ships in Los Angeles during World War II. I used to fly a lot, and rare was the touchdown that I didn’t give thanks for a union to back up the airplane mechanics, pilots and other workers when they take a stand for safety.

Remember to fly your flag today.

Flag at the Capitol, Library of Congress photo

19 Responses to Remembering Labor, on Labor Day

  1. […] Remembering Labor on Labor Day (with information about the GM sit-down strike) […]

    Like

  2. […] Remembering Labor on Labor Day (with information about the GM sit-down strike) […]

    Like

  3. […] Remembering Labor on Labor Day (with information about the GM sit-down strike) […]

    Like

  4. […] “Remembering Labor on Labor Day” […]

    Like

  5. steven says:

    I like George Carlin. It was a really good video, Bernarda. The thing many people probably aren’t aware of is that George was talking about the politicians, not the corporations. He just didn’t realize it.

    Like

  6. bernarda says:

    Here is a reality check for you, by a comedian only it isn’t very funny–but true.

    http://www.red-ice.net/news/2006/09sep/gcarlin.html

    Like

  7. steven says:

    I don’t know whether to laugh or sigh. Bernarda, you’re priceless.

    Like

  8. bernarda says:

    Steve, you spout the party line. It is you who doesn’t have a clue. “Increasing our involvement in the global economy, especially through free trade, will go a long way toward helping the people of poor countries lift themselves out of poverty. Unlike in the mafia, trade is based on voluntary interaction between willing parties.”

    Were you born yesterday, or what?

    Like

  9. steven says:

    Bernardo,

    You obviously don’t understand much about business and economics. In this day, corporations that ignore the needs of their customers and employees, as well as the needs of the communities they are situated in, stand a good chance of failing. The needs of customers, employees, communities and the need for the corporation to be profitable are all related to each other in the modern corporation. Increasing our involvement in the global economy, especially through free trade, will go a long way toward helping the people of poor countries lift themselves out of poverty. Unlike in the mafia, trade is based on voluntary interaction between willing parties.

    What is conspicuously absent from any of your comments so far are solutions to any of the problems you have brought up. You have only attacked what you perceive are the shortcomings of the free market. I suggest you offer some solutions.

    Like

  10. steven says:

    Bernardo,

    It took me about 2 minutes using google.com to find out that the factory Michael Moore sited was closed by health inspectors, not the corporation.

    Like

  11. bernarda says:

    I think my criticism of the idea of “competitive position” is clear. It is a pretext now used under the argument for so-called globalization.

    An example of a company closing a profitable factory was given in Michael Moore’s “The Big One”. As I remember, it was a Hershey candy bar factory in I think Missouri.

    Today, corporate philosophy is that only return to investors is important to the corporation. There is no consideration of the corporation being a part of a larger community including workers and people in the community where corporation activities are carried out.

    Corporations represent the oligarchy which thinks it can live in its ivory tower cut off from the hoi poloi. The oligarchy sees its workers and citizens in general as expendable “resources”. Basically, the corporation is a sort of authorized mafia.

    It is hard to see how many of the lower 40% of the population which has less than one percent of the national wealth can participate in pensions to any significant degree. One example,

    ” The Dow component said the defined benefit pension program will continue for current employees with future accruals at a reduced level with the calculation unchanged for service accrued through 2007 and then reduced to one-third its current level for service accrued after 2007.”

    ” Also, DuPont noted its company-paid survivor benefit will not continue to grow after Dec. 31, 2007, and that new hires effective Jan. 1, 2007 won’t be eligible for the pension and retirement plan, only the enhanced savings plan, and they will not receive a company subsidy for retiree healthcare or retiree life insurance.”

    ” DuPont anticipates the changes will improve earnings by about 3 cents a share in 2007, and by about 5 cents per share beginning in 2008. The stock closed Friday at $39.25, down 20 cents.”

    http://www.smartmoney.com/bn/ON/index.cfm?story=ON-20060828-000231-0943

    It is not only pensions, but health care that are cut.

    “The percentage of people with job-based health insurance dropped again last year, helping push up the level of uninsured Americans to 15.9% of the population, the highest since 1998.

    Estimates released Tuesday by the Census Bureau show that 46.6 million people lacked health insurance in 2005, up from 45.3 million in 2004. Unlike in other recent years, there was no increase in the rate of enrollment in government-based programs, such as Medicaid, which had helped to offset declines in private insurance.

    Job-based health insurance, which is the way most Americans get their coverage, began falling in 2001, even as health insurance premiums rose at double-digit annual rates. Last year, premium growth averaged 9.2%, lower than in previous years, but still three times inflation. ”

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/2006-08-29-health-insurance-coverage_x.htm

    Like

  12. steven says:

    “Corporations often close profitable factories because they are only bringing in say a 6% return when the Wall Street financial analysts are demanding say a 10% return.”

    That is nonsense. Corporations don’t generally close a profitable factory unless they are able to reinvest in a factory that is more profitable than the one being closed. Any profit is better than no profit at all. Perhaps you meant to say something along this line. My point here is that sensible corporations want to maximize their profits. That is their main reason for existing.

    You seem to disapprove of corporations maximizing their profits. Why shouldn’t they? Investors have every right to expect as large of a return as they can get from their investments. Consider that millions of Americans of all income levels have pensions that are invested in corporations all over the world. Their standard of living in retirement is going to be dependent, in good measure, on how well these corporations maximize their profits between now and then. And don’t tell me that poor people can’t participate in pensions. I have many low income clients that participate in pensions, through their employers and through self-funded plans. These low income people, more than anyone else, are counting on their pension plans to serve them well in retirement.

    Like

  13. steven says:

    Bernarda,

    Do you really not know what “jeopardize the competitive position” means, or are you just pretending to be ignorant for the sake of an argument?

    Like

  14. bernarda says:

    “Unions can make demands that jeopardize the competitive positions of corporations, which may not be in the best interest of the workers. What is the best way for workers to compel unions to represent the best interests of their members?”

    What does that mean, “jeopardize the competitive positions”? “Competitive position” is a myth created by the corporate oligarchy to justify keeping workers in their place. Now it is often used as a justification for closing plants in one country and setting up in another that has a more “competitive” workforce, naturally paid much less.

    Corporations often close profitable factories because they are only bringing in say a 6% return when the Wall Street financial analysts are demanding say a 10% return.

    What is the result of more than a hundred years of this policy? Extreme inequality in individual wealth.

    http://www.faculty.fairfield.edu/faculty/hodgson/Courses/so11/stratification/income&wealth.htm

    “These data suggest that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of families. The wealthiest 1 percent of households owns roughly 33.4% of the nation’s net worth, the top 10% of households owns over 71%, and the bottom 40% of households owns less than 1%.”

    Like

  15. steven says:

    Yes, unions are powerful forces in preventing and stopping abuse of workers. But unions sometimes abuse their members just as corporations sometimes abuse their workers. Unions can make demands that jeopardize the competitive positions of corporations, which may not be in the best interest of the workers. What is the best way for workers to compel unions to represent the best interests of their members? I think it is voluntary membership, which an individual member can simply revoke if he or she feels the union is not doing what they are being paid to do. I believe voluntary membership would go a long way towards making the unions more accountable to their members.

    I noticed that all of the Memphis sanitation workers pictured are African-American. I also noticed that the picture was taken in 1968. I believe things are quite different now (not perfect, but better).

    Like

  16. Ed Darrell says:

    I don’t support right-to-work laws to the extent they are used generally or chiefly to frustrate union organization, hold down wages, and keep work conditions from improving. I’m very much a free marketeer, but in order for a free market to work, there must be a level playing field, and fairness in the calls. Especially large corporations have a huge advantage in bargaining with individual employees. Collective bargaining helps make that process more nearly fair.

    On the other hand, I’ve been involved in investigations of labor unions where the power to hire and fire was clearly abused (and for which convictions of labor leaders were achieved).

    I’m opposed to abuse of people. Unions are powerful forces in preventing and stopping abuse of workers. Most right-to-work laws as applied keep workers from organizing for better work conditions, or safety.

    See the photo of the Memphis Sanitation Workers. See their slogan: “I am a MAN.” The City of Memphis refused to even negotiate with the workers, who were making less than $1.00 (if memory serves correctly), with horrible work conditions. They picked up garbage with their bare hands, in the summer’s heat, in the winter’s cold . . . Officials refused to negotiate with them because, they said, state laws said they didn’t have to negotiate with unions. Notice that all of the workers pictured are African-American.

    Do you think that garbage workers should not have the right to be treated as humans? Should they not have the right to demand fair wages, safe and secure work conditions, and to be treated as humans? How do right-to-work laws help the Memphis Sanitation Workers? How do they help anyone else?

    Like

  17. steven says:

    Ed – what do you think of right to work laws?

    Like

  18. michpics says:

    Thanks for the link, Ed!

    Like

Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: