This Day in Labor History: November 13, 1909. The Cherry Mine Fire in Illinois kills 259 coal miners. Let's talk about this murderous industry and their indifference toward the death of workers.
The Cherry Mine opened in 1905 to provide coal for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad’s trains. Coal powered technology meant a lot of brutal manual labor to run the machines that the nation increasingly relied upon.
Conditions in the mine were sadly what you would expect for the first decade of the twentieth century. Child labor was common, with boys often starting work at age 11. It was mostly immigrant labor. Miners were paid by production, not the hour, making work more dangerous.
This Day in Labor History: November 12, 1892. The New Orleans General Strike ends with a major win for workers. Let's talk about this cross-racial strike and a rare moment of union labor solidarity in the Gilded Age.
In early 1892, New Orleans’ streetcar drivers won a strike and received union recognition and a shorter workday. This inspired workers across New Orleans to form unions and join up their organizations with the American Federation of Labor. About 30 new unions formed.
Around 20,000 workers were union members and they formed their own labor federation called the Workingmen’s Amalgamated Council. Moreover, some of these unions were racially integrated.
This Day in Labor History: November 11, 1919. The American Legion decides to tear apart the IWW hall in Centralia, WA. The IWW defends itself and 4 die, leading to lynching of IWW organizer. Let's spend Veterans' Day talking about how the Legion was a proto-fascist organization.
Timber workers lived awful, horrible lives. They logged far away from towns in water-soaked, all-male camps with nothing to do. They died at grotesque rates from drowning and industrial accidents. The timber camp operators didn't care. At least until the loggers organized.
The Industrial Workers of the World started seriously organizing in the timber camps after 1912. Before that, the IWW was pushing ideology over organizing. After that, organizing started winning out. Letting workers set the agenda proved a great way to organize.
Keep seeing these arguments that Tuesday was a rebuke to progressive candidates. I don't see any way to read it that way except for being incredibly facile. It turns out that Democrats--progressive or moderate--have a hard time getting elected in right-wing districts. Who knew!
The only thing that might be challenged by this result is the idea, which does exist on the left, that really economically leftist Democrats can pull in right-wing voters on a populist message. Probably that's not going to work anymore, if it ever did.
What I fail to see is the idea that there is a desire for moderate candidates instead of progressive candidates. I don't think the vast majority of voters are looking at anything else but the political party when they make their choice. So might as well nominated progressives.
This Day in Labor History: November 10, 1933. Workers at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota sat down on the job in what might be the first sit-down strike in American history. Let's talk about this critical strike that helped shape worker militancy in the New Deal.
The Industrial Workers of the World had basically been crushed after World War I, during the Red Scare. Leaderless, with Big Bill Haywood dying in exile in Moscow, the organization divided into factions in the 1920s that effectively made it irrelevant.
It would still pop up every now and again, especially in areas where it had built real worker support, such as the forests of northern Idaho and western Montana. But by and large, it was an afterthought in an era where the left had turned to communism.
This Day in Labor History: November 8, 1970. Congress approved the Reorganization Acts Amendment that laid the groundwork for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Let's counter the right-wing narrative that the EPA is anti-worker. It is a pro-worker agency.
The need for the EPA was nearly undeniable. The nation’s industrial past had absolutely devastated the natural world. Corporations could dump pollution wherever they wanted and they did so with aplomb.
Pittsburgh was famous for its smoke, Cleveland had burning rivers. Oil slicks covered California beaches and had led to legendary gushers covering the land in Texas and Oklahoma. Companies such as General Electric dumped PCBs in the Hudson River and other waterways.
This Day in Labor History: November 7, 1861. The Port Royal Experiment begins, an attempt to employ black agricultural workers outside slavery. Let's talk about the limits of abolitionists to re-imagine black labor and how ex-slaves had strong economic demands.
It’s a little hard to imagine the debates about black work in 1861. The idea that African-Americans were inherently lesser than whites was so ingrained, it was a real and open question in the North whether black people would work without white supervision.
In part, this is what the Port Royal Experiment was about. What would black people do on the cotton farms without their masters? Moreover, the North really needed the cotton.
This Day in Labor History: November 5, 1916. Police open fire on IWW members seeking to land a boat in Everett, Washington. Let's talk about the Everett Massacre and the proto-fascism timber owners, politicians, and cops would use to bust unions.
Shingle weavers lived a tough life. You could always tell who was new to the job. The newbie had 10 fingers.
Shingle weavers created roofing shingles out of raw pieces of cedar. They did so with bare hands and whirring buzz saws without protection.
I am in Auburn, Alabama at the Auburn-Texas A&M game. This is white Alabama in its purest distillation. And the cheerleading squad is so lily white that George Wallace’s desiccated skull nods approvingly from the grave.
Military Appreciation Day at Auburn is fun. Let’s honor some more old white guys whose life highlight is shooting Vietnamese peasants from airplanes
Among the other things one learns at Auburn’s military appreciation day is that we have troops in Djibouti because freedom or something
This Day in Labor History: November 2, 1909. The Spokane Free Speech Fight begins. This is a great place to talk about both the strengths and weaknesses of the Industrial Workers of the World. So let's do that.
The IWW was founded in 1905 to give power to the millions of industrial workers who lacked it in Gilded Age America.
With the American Federation of Labor largely unwilling to organize women, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, farmworkers, children, or the giant industrial workplaces, there was a tremendous vacuum for someone willing to organize the masses. The IWW would step into that vacuum
This Day in Labor History: October 31, 1978. President Carter signs the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, granting equal right on the job to pregnant workers. Let's today's treat be a discussion of equality for women at work.
Earlier women’s activism in the workforce tended to focus on protecting women on the job, often granting them special rights that would protect them as mothers.
The Consumers’ Bureau led by Florence Kelley was central to this strategy, which played a critical role in Muller v. Oregon that carved out an exemption from the predominant idea of employees entering into a voluntary contract with employers and thus deserved no protections.
This Day in Labor History: October 30, 1837. Nicholas Farwell, a train engineer toiling for the Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation fell off a train while at work and had his hand crushed by the train. Let's talk about how the courts and employers made work unsafe.
Farwell had done nothing wrong. A switchman messed up and the train derailed, which is how Farwell was thrown from it. Rather than accept his fate, which was not good as a disabled individual in a world without a social safety net, Farwell sued the company for $10,000.
In his 1842 decision in Farwell v. Boston and Worcester Rail Road Corporation, Massachusetts Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw disagreed. Shaw claimed that Farwell was personally responsible for the risk of work.
Who is doing good work tying all these global fascist movements together? I have some thoughts about what connects them, but I'm not really smart enough to work all this out on my own.
The short version is that I think the excesses of the neoliberal project combined with the disruptions of goods and peoples flowing across borders has led to a deep desire for racist authoritarians to set things straight, while the post-1991 left has been too fractured to counter
And of course, neoliberalism does not mean "something Democrats do that I don't like." Nor is it "something that doesn't really exist because Bernie Sanders uses the word and I don't like him."
This Day in Labor History: October 29, 1889. Hawaiian whites lynch the Japanese organizer and merchant Katsu Goto in an early sign of the violence used to control labor on the islands. Let's talk about this little known incident of our racist nation.
Nearly as soon as white missionaries arrived in Hawaii before the Civil War, they wrote back home about all the investment possibilities there. The connection between religion, capitalism, and imperialism was never on display as clearly as in Hawaii.
Soon, whites arrived to establish sugar plantations, wresting control of the islands away from the native Hawaiians and putting increasing pressure on the Hawaiian government to capitulate to planters’ demands.
This Day in Labor History: October 28, 1793. Eli Whitney submits his patent for the cotton gin. Let's talk about the most important technological advancement in the history of American labor and very much not for the better for most workers.
People had long known of the versatile uses of cotton This plant produced fibers that could be used for many things, but most usefully clothing, which in the 18th century was often scratchy and uncomfortable for everyday people who could not afford finer fabrics, including cotton
Cotton was grown and produced in many parts of the world, including India and Mexico, for a very long time, usually in home production spinning by women. But Europeans wanted to centralize this under their control. This was the basis of the Industrial Revolution.
This Day in Labor History: October 27, 1948. The Donora Smog kills 20 people in Donora, PA. Let's talk about the environmental conditions of work in industrial production and how workers don't have to die from pollution. The picture below was taken at noon.
Donora was a town dominated by U.S. Steel. Southeast of Pittsburgh, the town had both the Donora Zinc Works and the American Steel and Wire plant, both owned by U.S. Steel.
The pollution throughout southwest Pennsylvania was legendary as the combination of the steel industry and the region’s hills and valleys meant incredible smoke. While Pittsburgh was nationally famous for its pollution, surrounding towns had similar problems.
This Day in Labor History: October 25, 1831. The first of several revolts by silk workers in Lyon, France, began, which rocked the nation. Let me take a break from this endless grading marathon to discuss one of the first major revolts against the Industrial Revolution's reality.
As was common in early industrialization, skilled workers controlled much about the means of production. In the nascent French silk industry, based in Lyon, canuts, or the chief weaving craftsmen, owned their own looms.
There were about 8000 of them. They employed approximately 30,000 apprentices. There were several thousands lower-paid workers, many of them women and children, who did the brute labor that made the looms work, such as folders, spinners, and people who made the weaving tools.
This Day in Labor History: October 23, 1995. John Sweeney won the election to become president of the AFL-CIO. Let's talk about this huge shift in the federation's leadership and how it was perhaps too little, too late.
First, sorry this is so late in the day. I am completely overwhelmed with teaching duties and grading right now, so these threads have been less frequent lately. Alas.
It’s hard to express enough contempt for the AFL-CIO in the forty years after the 1955 merger to Sweeney’s victory in 1995. In that time, there were only two heads of the federation: George Meany and Lane Kirkland.
As my Civil War course for the spring fills up, I wonder how many students will be shocked that this is a course on the central event of the Black Freedom Struggle far more than military stuff?
As Ta-Nehisi Coates once noted, black students don't take Civil War courses because they think of it as white history. And that definitely fits my experience. It's always kind of a bummer. But my nearly all-white Civil War courses need to hear this too.
Of course, the Civil War is also the central event in the genocide of Native peoples on the Plains and in the West, which I will also cover more than ever as the literature on this grows. And it was the same people who were ending slavery and exterminating Native peoples.
This Day in Labor History: October 15, 1990. President George H.W. Bush signed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, giving limited compensation to those sickened by Cold War uranium mining. Let's talk about how Native workers have always been marginalized in American work.
With the rise of the nuclear state after 1945, the United States needed steady supplies of uranium. Domestic supplies were preferred where possible. The one part of the United States with significant uranium deposits is in the Southwest, particularly in the Four Corners area.
Most of this land, at least in Arizona and New Mexico, was on the gigantic Navajo reservation, a deeply impoverished area granted to the Navajo first in 1868 after the disastrous attempt to move them to Fort Sumner, New Mexico and then expanded over the decades.
This Day in Labor History: October 11, 1979. OSHA fined the chemical company American Cyanamid $10,000 for coercing women workers into sterilization if they wanted to work in jobs where they would be exposed to lead and chemicals. Let's talk about this horrible job discrimination
During the 1970s, two trends coincided that forced highly polluting dangerous industries onto the defensive. The first was the rise of environmentalism that included keeping workers healthy.
The creation of OSHA in 1971 was a key moment in this history, as the federal government now, at least in theory, took responsibility for making sure workers were safe from hazardous chemicals and other health risks on the job.
This Day in Labor History: October 10, 1917. Police shut down New Orleans' red light district, Storyville. Let's talk about how sex workers are workers and the moralistic shame these workers have had to put up with forever.
First and foremost, prostitutes and other people in the sex industry are workers no different than the rest of us. They usually have a very crappy job, yes. But it is a job. It is an economic choice. Often, it is an economic choice made by an economy that gives women few options.
The moralistic condemnation of these workers is another way we divide the working class in ways that hurt all workers. It is unacceptable, in 1917 and in 2018. We need to make these jobs safer and provide people with more economic options.