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    Labor Day Link: The Bread and Roses Strike, 100 Years Later

    Labor Day is a great day to remember some of the history of the American labor movement. Of course, our leading American newspaper is using the day to lionize Henry Ford without mentioning how fiercely Ford hated the labor movement. So, a little counter-programming:


    This year is the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts (a place dear to my heart). The strike, and the mill-owners' violence against the strikers and the strikers' families, caught the whole nation's attention. We have spent the last century assiduously erasing these events from our national memory. But follow this link to read about what the good old days were really like, before labor unions ruined everything with their socialist 40-hour weeks, minimum wage rules, overtime pay, and child-labor laws. It's a good chance to read up on what the paradise of the unfettered free market was really like.

    A hundred years ago today, the leaders of the Bread and Roses strike were awaiting trial for murder. They had been three miles away, speaking before hundreds of witnesses, when that murder took place. The victims were striking workers. The shots had most likely been fired by strike-breaking police. And you know what? That wasn't even the third-most-outrageous thing that happened.

    I'd like to thank the Bread and Roses strikers for fighting to reduce the work-week to 54 hours. And that's just where the list of thanks we owe them begins.


    Putting this together with Destor's upstream, you see an argument that's repeated today.

    Workers don't need unions because of the enlightened paternalism of the owners. "See? Ford upped wages to $5 an hour without being forced to."

    There were true company towns back then. In fact, I believe Ford had an entire city in the jungles of Brazil centered around the production of rubber for tires.

    Ultimately, the argument says, "The owners own the country," and everyone else has to live in their world.

    Now there's an added screw which didn't exist back then: Much cheaper foreign labor that does just as good a job and is happy to work for less.

    So the owners have somewhere to go if the workers become unwilling to work for X. We see it here, too, in Boeing's move from Washington to SC.

    Some of this is beginning to crack with things like the Foxconn strike. Inevitably, the workers, at first happy to work for anything, become ambitious to enjoy the fruits of their labor and want "more."

    Thanks for this, Doc. (And for including my link.)  I discovered the Bread and Roses Centennial committee on Facebook and the story is so compelling.  But so many of the early stories of terrible working conditions and necessary union formations and devastating strikes are almost unbelievable when you realize the conditions and the agonies these people had to go through.

    If I get preachy, it's because I think there would be no greater dishonor to those people than to let these stories die.  And if we have to use mallets to hit people over the head to get them to understand, that's okay with me.  I've handled a mallet before.

    Go, sister, go!

    Wobblies of the World Unite

    Perfect.  But I'll keep my shirt on, thanks.

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