Labor Day and the violence accompanying the labor movement

History Through Philately stamp

Happy Labor Day!

I was eleven years old when my youngest cousin was born. Her family lived across town, and she had an older brother and sister. I remember when her dad came over to announce that mom had “gone into labor.” A couple of months later, school started, the Tuesday after Labor Day. I put two and two together and got, uh, four?

In today’s world, if I have a question about anything, I go to Wikipedia first, and if that’s not helpful, well, Google is my friend. In this case, I find Wikipedia quite adequate.

Labor Day in the United States is a celebration of the American labor movement, the movement that brought us such things as workers’ compensation for accidents in the workplace, at least one day’s rest each week, maximum limits on the length of the work day, and minimum wage laws. Many improvements in the plight of the common laborer have been accomplished through collective bargaining.

Scott #1558 Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining often meant strikes, which usually involved violence, injury, and death. Newspapers, then as now, created names for events of public interest such as strikes:

  • the “Haymarket Riot” in Chicago in 1886 (7 police and 4 strikers killed, 70 wounded; 4 strikers hanged after being convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to death)
  • the “Colorado Labor Wars” of 1903-04 (66 killed)
  • the “Pullman Strike” of 1894 (13 strikers killed and 57 wounded)
  • the “Great Railroad Strike of 1922” (11 killed)
  • the “Ludlow Massacre” of 1914 (22 killed, including 4 women and 11 children), part of the “Colorado Coalfield War” of 1913-1914 (reports on deaths vary from 50 to 200).

The “Ludlow Massacre” became folklore…

Woody Guthrie sang about it in his song, “Ludlow Massacre.”

Scott #3213 Woody Guthrie

Upton Sinclair’s novel, “King Coal,” is loosely based on the event and its aftermath.

King Coal by Upton Sinclair

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States, as well as state holidays in all 50 states.

7 things to be thankful at work

Labor Unions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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22 thoughts on “Labor Day and the violence accompanying the labor movement

  1. colltales

    Russel, I’m sorry, but your title may be misleading: is not the labor movement that’s violent, but the attempts to suppress it. Labor Day in the U.S. should be celebrated May 1st., as it is in the great part of the world (Wikipedia & Google do tell us why). Collective bargaining doesn’t have to lead to strikes and violence, and without it, that list of workers’ rights you’ve included wouldn’t be the law today. It’s too bad that there’s a coordinated effort by corporate America to deflate the power of collective bargaining, and it’s no wonder that we’re living now at a time when no-union, part-time work, no benefits, and low wages are becoming the norm. I don’t mean to criticize you, as I know you have your heart in the right place and the content of your post clearly shows it, but perhaps linking labor to the word violent in the headline may convey the wrong idea. As for the association of Labor Day and childbirth, well I think that’s very funny indeed.

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      I get your point, and I had thought about that, but he violence wasn’t all on the side of the police, government, and companies. It wasn’t called the “Labor suppression movement.” It was the labor movement, and it was violent.

      I believe companies have a right to do business, and if there are people willing to work for the wages the company is paying—Walmart comes immediately to mind in today’s world—so be it. That, however, shouldn’t preclude workers from organizing for better pay and working conditions, but it also doesn’t mean that the workers can become violent by destroying company property and even killing or injuring the people (“scabs”) hired to work during the strike.

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      1. colltales

        I think it’s not just more accurate to your post (and yes, I’ve read your comment and it makes sense), but also shows a nice side of you, as a person, and I admire that very much. I really wasn’t expecting it. Thanks, Russel.

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  2. philosophermouseofthehedge

    Uh, it can be very violent.
    I’ve been member of 2 unions in different occupations.
    Membership only protection you have in some instances…but there is a dark violent past on the part of unions also.
    I’ll never forget in high school how union thugs came out of the dark and almost beat a friend’s father to death – he was simply a low level mild mannered accountant who showed up for work at his not fancy office when the union was trying to shut the company down to force their demands.
    Not the approved debate and suggested negotiation methods we were taught in school….and in school fights were looked down on…but that’s kids…adults know better…but that was then…when people obeyed the law.
    So I look carefully at union activity and approve of “right to work” states. If the union is good and a positive force, people join. No bullies needed.
    Don’t get me wrong, unions were/are needed and do good.(Unions are the reason we have 12 grades in schools…keep kids out of the jobs market and gives a little more time for them to learn and mature)
    But realistically and honestly, there is a dark potential. Good people must be keep an eye on things – no matter the organization
    Good post, Russel. Cheers for Labor Day – it’s not just another day to shop sales – seems so few know (Wouldn’t it be great if everything was closed and everyone got the day off in honor of workers and labor? Why doesn’t that happen?)

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      I like your point about “dark potential.” Republicans like to say that if we give the extraordinarily rich people more money via tax cuts, the tax savings will trickle down to the masses. No, it doesn’t. That dark potential rears its ugly head and the rich simply buy a bigger house, or a few more vacation homes, or homes that they can then rent to the masses. Yep, good people have to keep an eye on things, “good people” often being defined here in the United States as the “court system,” and yet the courts sometimes get things wrong on the first go-round before fixing things later on.

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      1. philosophermouseofthehedge

        I don’t worry about the rich – they can/do self destruct without my help.
        Tired of too many offering excuses to make people feel better when they don’t succeed and have “stuff” right away. TIred of those who want a “Paris HIlton Lifestyle” when they show no persistence, no self motivation, little focus towards a goal, and a total unwillingness for delayed gratification.
        Amused by those who have “guilty over what they inherited” which is actually a showy ego trip…(and then they go about their business) – Passive response that looks good on paper.
        There used to be a saying about”To ‘those that much is given have much expected of and responsible for.” A call for action towards others. But few respond anymore.
        Priorities are so wacky now.
        Not sure where your court system comments slot in here. (Although believe strongly that local control is better as you can find the people and yell at them if they go nuts)
        My use of “good people” is a general “middle of the roaders” who keep level heads and a good batch of common sense. The only hope for society is that there’s a large percentage of those “good people” who are willing to stand up and call people/agencies/governments/unions/companies out when those go too far off track.

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        1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

          There might be a large percentage, but, unfortunately, with the 24/7 Internet and billionaires buying all the television time, the rich are able to sway the ignorant because the ignorant don’t have attention spans longer than what Paris Hilton had for breakfast and have no interest in learning anything beyond that which they already know, or think they know. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better……..

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          1. philosophermouseofthehedge

            I agree about the focus of the general public ( had to laugh at the way you said it). Too much trying to spice up boring lives by watching goofy wanna-be famous people and media celebs.
            So few actually get info/news from a broad base covering at least a wide range of views if not neutral ones. Preferring to to be spoon fed (and then if it only is less 3 seconds/on Facebook/twitter). Get more facts from sources outside the US now…Now that’s sad – and dangerous.
            But hey – today, go outside and enjoy (are the waves still huge there? Clouds here…more heavy rain tomorrow…you don’t miss that do you out there in all the lovely nights and sunny days?)

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            1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

              I think the waves have died down, at least to the point where they are not making the news anymore. Just lots of people at the beaches, most of them from Arizona. They’ve been here for the whole summer due to the heat in Arizona, and today’s their last day here before they have to go home and stay until next summer. After today, we have the beaches to ourselves again. Yahooooooo!

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  3. Experienced Tutors

    Great post and wonderful to get another blast of Woody Guthrie. Less than one hour before reading your post I was listening to the great Pete Seeger.

    During our miners strike of 1984 Pete Seeger invited the miners wives over to America. They formed a singing group and gave concerts to support their men folk on strike. I don’t think they made the trip. I am proud to have one of that group as a friend.

    Here in England we have a proud union traditional. Long may that continue.

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  4. laurie27wsmith

    Great post Russel. The union movement has certainly changed over time. Weren’t the Pinkertons used quite often as strike breakers over there? Company owners and governments over time certainly didn’t like the idea of a movement. The working class was seen as an expendable product, let’s face it there’s always another man ready to take up a position. One thing I always mention when people go on about unions being bad etc and that is they stopped little kids from having to work in coal mines. There’s always a negative side. I remember reading about a woollen mill owner in Scotland. The business had been in the family for generations and he was a fair and equitable employer. At the height of the miners strike in England his employees went on strike for more of everything. He gave it to them then they went out again. He closed the business down because he wouldn’t make any profit at all, putting a hundred odd people out of work. I joined the union in every job I had and the one when I worked in prison stands out. Of course the state government is your boss and they’re always a tardy mob. In five years we went out about three times, mainly over conditions and unsafe work practices. We found ourselves with a new union rep, besides his job he also owned a caravan park, drove a Mercedes benz and had no money worries whatsoever. (good on him) An issue came up and he called a meeting outside the gates. We all stood around waiting while he did business in the admin office. He came out, went to his car and took out a small wooden crate. He came over to the group, put the crate down, stood on it and began his spiel. He was quite the orator and finished with a resolution to go out on strike for three days. One of the blokes noticed a yellow slip hanging out of the reps back pocket and said, “Hang on, you’re going on leave aren’t you?” – “No I’m not.” – “Yes you are that’s a leave slip in your back pocket.” Head hanging low he got down off his box, picked it up and crept away. What a mongrel, he would have been relaxing at home counting his money while we would have lost a packet.

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