Labor Day is a Memorial to Strikers Who Died. Here’s to Eugene Debs, John Mitchell–Heroes of Labor. Labor Day Celebrates those who Struggled, Died to Fight and Restrain Inhumane Working Conditions, Millionaire Murderers, Exploitative Owners and Won. It is 2019 and We Need Them NOW.

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WPCNR NEWS AND COMMENT. By John F. Bailey. AUGUST 31, 2019 Reprinted from the CitizeNetReporter Archives:

It is Labor Day Weekend 2019.

Teachers throughout the state continue to be under fire for not teaching effectively. Teacher union leaders protest against calls for change and possible elimination of tenure. Yet the latest test scores of the new assessment tests have been delayed until late August– good and late and of no use at all in helping articulate more effective curricula.

Yet corporate and bureaucratic advocates of the Common Core are not held accountable for the inexplicable test results of 2019 that still show more than half of New York State students are unable to read or write English effectively entering high school. It cannot be all the teachers’ faults. We only have those test results to go on because the 2019 results are explained as to how they can be so low. Nobody’s talking. The governor isn’t talking. The State Education Department didn’t hold a video news conference on these results, because they are a humilation of the State Board of Regents, the State Education Department and school districts across the state.

Perhaps it is the poor local grade by grade tests used in every school district in the state? Or are the local tests great and the assessment tests costing the state $44 Million an incompentent, ivory tower of babel?

Don’t our state senators and assemblypersons and hands-on governor want to find out what the assessment problem is? No. They did not when they had the chance in 2016 and 2017 when the teachers union was try to protect tenure and not find out why the tests were not being passed by the students. Well now’s another chance to fix education after 20 years of assessment testing that has not indicated whether New York State teaches well and test badly or teaches poorly and tests atrociously, educates white students well, and minority students poorly.

Why is it our State Senators and Assemblypersons and the Governor opted out of finding out why Johnny and Jane can’t read after 8 years of elementary and middle School? That is irresponsible. Buck-passing. Kicking the can down the road. Ducking the responsibility for a State Education Department and a Board of Regents that demonstrate a nose-in-the-air distaste for facts, truth, and accountability.

Labor across the nation is fighting back against low pay enforced by union-busting state governments committed to the dole of corporate robber barons of today.

Public enmity against unions is popular, especially the practice of jacking pensions by getting more overtime in the years just before retirements. I say it’s time to look at the city leadership and the state leadership and hold them accountable. They are the leaders and they do not lead. (Let me, rephrase that, Mr. Cuomo leads more than any other elected official in the nation, but he has to lead more on this education and pension problem). 2019 is a moment of truth for Governor Cuomo. Education is the single most vital problem New York faces.

No politicians talk about the offensive practice  of decrying  union pensions, while accepting political jobs after a politician leaves office  or is defeated, that politicians and political parasites have to get waivers for to retain their pensions, and they are routinely able to acquire such waivers to get 6-figure jobs in the private or public sector and still collect their pension, and do very little for those taxpayer dollars.

How about stopping that very nice perk? Money for nothing. And politicians cry about labor contracts? Please. Yet to buy union support they make settlements double the inflation rate.

Look back at the history of the labor movement, workers have always had to fight and die to make progress.

Because management is not fair, equitable, or humane. They don’t care about you as a person. They use you up. Use you. And when you get hurt. Too bad. And now our feckless Supreme Court has taken away the class action suit.

Business and government “internships” today are a nice word for slavery without whips.

Labor Day first made its appearance when low wages and long hours were protested against in the mid-nineteenth century during the American Industrial Revolution.

Management works for themselves, always.

Oregon instituted the first Labor Day in the 1870s, and New York in the 1880s.

The National Labor Day Holiday came about because of national outrage over two violent strikes that were ended by armed intervention by the military and private detectives, the notorious “Pinkertons.”

Let’s go back to the 1890s and learn what Labor Day is all about. It’s not about a day off. It is a memorial day. It’s not about “good job.”

The gay 90s were not so gay if you were a union worker.

They were a time when the so-called robber barons thought nothing of bringing out private security forces to shoot strikers. They  lowered wages with no mercy. It was all about them, their mansions, their fortunes, their tax-free profits. (No income tax before 1913, folks).

In the Homestead, Pennsylvania steel factory strike in 1892Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron, wanted to lower wages to make the Homestead factory  more profitable. (Instead of pulling down statues, they should change the name of the Carnegie Institute. Mr. Carnegie was no saint.)

Steelworkers in Homestead Pennsylvania, made $10 a week, working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, as much as  84 hours a week.

Carnegie’s Deputy  Chairman Henry Frick wanted to pay them less, and attempted to bring in non-union laborers to replace them.

Two thousand union workers barricaded the plant.

Frick hired Pinkerton Detectives to disperse them. On June 29, 1892, “Pinkertons” killed 7 union workers with gunfire, and injured “countless” others and three Pinkertons were killed.

The Governor called in the National Guard to restore order. The armed intervention broke the Amalgamated Association union.

After this, according to “Steelworkers in America” by David Brody, wages of steelworkers at Homestead declined 20% from 1892 to 1907 and workshifts went up from 8 hours to 12 hours (96 hours a week). 

What a great fellow, Carnegie. What a humanitarian! That’s your robber baron. He’d fit right in with today’s Wolves of Wall Street, wouldn’t he? He’d be in the Trump cabinet.

This union-killing in Pennysylvania was followed by the 1894 Pullman Strike in Pullman Illinois.

George M. Pullman, the creator of the sleeper car, housed his workers in Pullman City, Illinois, and charged them rent. 

In the depression of the early 1890s, in 1893 wages at the Pullman Palace Factory fell  25%, but Pullman did not lower his rents to his workers.

The rent, if not met, was deducted from worker pay.Pullman was a garbage person.

A nice guy, George Pullman.  He could run a bank today, couldn’t he?

On May 11, 1894 workers with the American Railroad Union under the leadership of the great  Eugene V.  Debs, started a wildcat (unauthorized) strike in protest of Pullman’s policies.

On June 26, 1894, union members refused to service trains with Pullman Cars in their consist, to leave Chicago, delaying the U.S. Mail.

Twenty-four railroads in an organization called the General Managers Association announced that any switchman who refused to move rail cars would be fired.

Mr. Debs and his union stood their ground.

Debs said if any switchman was fired for not moving Pullman Cars, the union would walk off their jobs. On June 29, 50,000 union men quit.

Union supporters stopped trains on rails West of Chicago.

President Grover Cleveland was asked by the railroads to use federal troops to stop the strike.

Railroad management began characterizing the union as violent and lawless, calling Debs “a radical.”

When Debs went to Blue Island to ask railroad workers there to support the strike, rioting broke out, tracks were torn up. Railroad cars were burned.

The Attorney General of the United States Richard Olney, at the urging of the railroad owners, obtained an injunction July 2 that declared the strike illegal.

When Debs’ union members did not return to work, when they did not return to work—-

President Cleveland sent federal troops into Chicago.

Strikers stopped trains, destroyed switches and burned railroad cars.

Troops opened fire on strikers  attempting to stop a train traveling through downtown Chicago.

Debs and his union leaders were arrested for disrupting the delivery of mail.

Twenty-six civilians were killed for disrupting the mail.

Because the mail could not be delivered. Because the mail could not be delivered…how pathetic.

Debs, the union leader, stopped the strike.

Debs was sentenced to six months in jail and the union was disbanded. To my knowledge no federal troops who killed civilians were prosecuted.

A number of railroad workers were black listed and could not get a job on a railroad in the United States.

It was the first time federal troops were used to break up a strike.

Pullman workers were forced to sign a pledge they would never strike again.

The threat of the federal government stopping strikes lead to an end of strikes for at least 8 years.

President Cleveland, though, was facing reelection in 1894.

And, here’s how Labor Day became a national holiday.

Union leaders and citizens were alarmed at his handling of the strike.

As PBS put it in a documentary in 2001:

“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.

President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. William Jennings Bryant ran for the Democratic Party and the Populist Party in 1896, losing to  Republican William McKinley.

Then came a sea change in the great coal strike of 1902, when another “exemplary” capitalist J. P. Morgan fought the coal workers.

It happened in the coal fields of Easton, Pennsylvania, when the United Mine Workers headed by John Mitchell struck the coal operators  pushing for an 8-hour day.

The coal operators employed private police and the Pennsylvania National Guard to protect non-union workers.

President Theodore Roosevelt summoned the parties to the White House to bring settlement of the dispute by arbitration. After 6 months, the coal miners won a 9-hour day and a 10% increase in wages.

T.R.’s personal intervention lead to Selig Perlman, economist and labor historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, saying “this was perhaps the first time in history a labor organization tied up for months a strategic industry without being condemned as a revolutionary menace.’

The 1902 leadership of the great Teddy Roosevelt resulted in elimination of private police forces long used  by management to combat workers.

When Governor Samuel Pennypacker became Governor of Pennsylvania, Pennypacker created the Pennsylvania State Police in 1903, the first in the nation to supplant the independent organizations hired by management that were little more than strong-arm boys.

The lesson of Labor Day is to remember the bravery of the union leaders who put their members first, did not make deals, did not sell out their members,(and I might add, sucomb to politicians’ whining) and held out for the good against managements that were neither kind, humane, fair, or appreciative of their workers’ contribution to their corporate success.

Management never  is. They talk a good game but it’s all talk.

So American workers should remember the struggles and the leadership of Debs and Mitchell. And the strikers and civilians who were shot down in the street for stopping delivery of mail.

They introduced a new era of workers’ rights at the costs of their lives.

The battle against worker exploitation never ends. It’s still happening today.

Let’s stop it. Let’s fight it. Let’s boycott the robber barons.

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