LABOR DAY: A MEMORIAL TO STRIKERS WHO DIED.

Posted on August 31, 2019 by John Bailey

WPCNR NEWS AND COMMENT. By John F. Bailey. SEPTEMBER 7, 2020. Reprinted from the CitizeNetReporter Archives:

It is Labor Day 2020.

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 themselvesalways.

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 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, and our national leadership 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? He could run an airline and an airliner manufacturing company.

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.

(Does all this sound familiar? Right out of today’s political rhetoric.)

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.

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 (italics WPCNR) 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, succomb 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. Look at the Covid firings.

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, for God’s sake!

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, and vote out the scalywags in Washington, D.C. All of them.

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