today in labor history

Today in labor history, May 1, 2015: Happy International Workers’ Day! May Day is celebrated around the world as a day of international working class solidarity and is a national public holiday in more than 80 countries. The date was chosen by the Socialist International Congress (the Second International) in 1889 to commemorate the Haymarket incident in Chicago.

3

May 4th 1886: Haymarket Riot

On this day in 1886, in a violent altercation between police and protestors, the Haymarket riot occurred in Chicago. The previous day, several people were injured and one killed when police attempted to break a strike aimed at securing national eight-hour day legislation. In retaliation to such police brutality, a group of anarchist labour leaders organised a meeting in Haymarket Square. The meeting was initially peaceful, but when the police called for the crowd to disperse, one anonymous protestor threw a bomb. In the ensuing chaos the police opened fire, and violence reigned in Chicago’s streets. Ultimately, seven police officers and a few civilians died, with one hundred more people injured. The riot stoked fears of working class militancy, and resulted in a crackdown against labour leaders and immigrants. A group of anarchist leaders, known as the ‘Chicago Eight’, were arrested for alleged involvement in the bombing and subsequent violence. While many of the group were not even present at Haymarket, four anarchists were convicted on slim evidence and executed in November 1887. The surviving three of the group (one had committed suicide) were pardoned in 1893 when the case was reconsidered and thrown out on the basis of poor evidence. While proving a blow for the labour movement at the time, the Haymarket riot - and the martyrdom of the Chicago Eight - has endured as a symbol for labour leaders and activists in America and abroad. 

“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today”
- Anarchist August Spies, one of the Chicago Eight, before his execution for alleged involvement in the Haymarket riot

Bread and Roses

An internet rabbithole, as they go.

Not long ago I watched the film Pride (set largely in 1984 Wales), and there was a scene where the community hall broke into the song Bread and Roses.  I was on a plane, otherwise I’d probably have googled it.

I was looking at some labor history links today after looking at some titles on Scribd and came across this by the Labor Education Service from the University of Minnesota: there again, Bread and Roses (1912, far from Wales).

So now, reading the lyrics and looking up the strike and the song both, this is how we get the name Rose Schneiderman - who coined the phrase that was turned into a slogan, poem and song.

All of this to say that I was moved by a speech from Rose herself, in the wake of the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  Thank you wikipedia for that.  And now perhaps I ought to find more to read of hers, but that is the beauty of internet rabbitholes, there is always more to read:

“I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.

We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”


—Rose Schneiderman

Serious question- is it like some sacred pilgrimage for white people, especially white photographers, to go to Tanzania or Kenya and take basic ass photographs of Maasai people? It’s like their trip to the zoo. Look- Maasai jumping! Look Maasai piercing! How often do you see a humanizing photograph? Never.

As an African photographer, it’s SO easy for me to tell when a photograph in ~Africa~ was taken by a non-black and non-African person. It’s always the same shit. Cameras angled down on children, literally looking DOWN on them. Children peering around corners at the camera since they have no fucking clue who this person is waltzing around their community like its a safari. The same basic exotifying shit you would see on the discovery channel of a pack of hyenas with the exhibit this time featuring either the Maasai or the Himba. Poverty pornography. It’s all horrific.

And then I compare that to the work of African photographers like Samuel Fosso, Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibe, Zanele Muholi, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Sabelo Mlangeni, James Barnor and much more. These are the people who inspire me every single day and the core of their work is grace, art and an enduring humanity. When you look at a Keita photograph from Bamako, Mali in the 50s, it’s like you’re having a conversation with that person today. I’m always arrested by his work and that of the other African photography greats.

The photographic work of white people on the continent and non-Africans more broadly, on the other hand, does nothing for me. There is no gentleness, kindness, warmth or- fundamentally- humanity in the works. They just don’t get it or really SEE us and it shows.

There’s no way that anyone can ever tell me that great art about Africa can be made by non-Africans. It just does not compute. The continent has been pillaged for centuries. In addition to robbing us of millions of people (including countless creatives) who were exploited and killed through the slave trade, the artistic labor of our ancestors were also savaged and shipped all over the West (e.g. the Benin Bronzes). You can walk into almost any “Natural History Museum” today and find the fruits of our labor featured next to other stolen antiquities between various wild animal exhibits. When I went to the Brooklyn Museum I was captivated by the incredible indigenous art on display, but also by the exploitation, brutality and colonization which spirited this art away from its home communities all the way to Brooklyn. I hear that the British Natural History Museum is an even more horrifying glorification of colonial exploitation in the form of stolen artwork- including a huge inventory from their former African colonies.

So I honestly find it offensive when non-Africans, especially white people, are running around trying to tell African stories FOR us. Robbing us of our agency like they’ve been attempting to do for centuries now. But in spite of all of this, we rise, we create and we flourish. We create works by and for us and there’s so much power in that… and us! I’m so inspired by African artists from across the diaspora and looking at the amazing work being produced day in and day out it reminds me that we shall overcome in spite of any and all bs.

:)

2

We’re not sure exactly where she was born, or when she was born, but we know that Mary Harris was from somewhere in Cork County, Ireland, and immigrated to North America with her family as a child to escape the Irish famine. In her early twenties, she moved to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker, and then to Memphis, Tennessee, where she met and married George Jones, a skilled iron molder and staunch unionist. The couple had four children.  Then tragedy struck: a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 took the lives of Mary’s husband and all four children. Mary Harris Jones returned to Chicago where she continued to sew, becoming a dressmaker for the wealthy. “I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking alongside the frozen lake front,” she said. “The tropical contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me. My employers seemed neither to notice nor to care.” Then came the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Mary once again lost everything.

After the fire, Mary began to travel across the country. The nation was undergoing dramatic change, and industrialization was changing the nature of work. She worked with the Knights of Labor, often giving speeches to inspire the workers during strikes. She organized assistance for workers’ strikes, and prepared for workers’ marches. In June 1897, after Mary addressed the railway union convention, she began to be referred to as “Mother” by the men of the union. The name stuck. That summer, when the 9,000-member Mine Workers called a nationwide strike of bituminous (soft coal) miners and tens of thousands of miners laid down their tools, Mary arrived in Pittsburgh to assist them. She became “Mother Jones” to millions of working men and women across the country for her efforts on behalf of the miners. Mother Jones was so effective the union would send her into mines, to help miners to join unions. In addition to miners, Mother Jones also was very concerned about child workers. To attract attention to the cause of abolishing child labor, in 1903, she led a children’s march of 100 children from the textile mills of Philadelphia to New York City “to show the New York millionaires our grievances.” She led the children all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Long Island home.

A political progressive, she was a founder of the Social Democratic Party in 1898. Mother Jones also helped establish the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. For all of her social reform and labor activities, she was considered by the authorities to be one of the most dangerous women in America. In 1912, Mother Jones was even charged with a capital offense by a military tribunal in West Virginia and held under house arrest for weeks until popular outrage and national attention forced the governor to release her. In her eighties, Mother Jones settled down near Washington, D.C., in 1921 but continued to travel across the country. She died, possibly aged 100, in 1930.  Her final request was to be buried in the Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois, where you can visit her grave today.

Today in labor history, October 26, 1905: Over 2 million workers are on strike throughout the Russian Empire. Following the government’s massacre of more than 1,000 workers gathered at the Tsar’s palace in January, a huge wave of strikes erupted, coordinated by workers’ councils. By late December, the military put down what became known as the Russian Revolution of 1905, crushing the strikes and imprisoning the leaders of the workers’ councils.

youtube

What’s Labor Day all about anyway?

View the TED-Ed Lesson Why do Americans and Canadians celebrate Labor Day?

In the United States and Canada, the first Monday of September is a federal holiday, Labor Day. Originally celebrated in New York City’s Union Square in 1882, Labor Day was organized by unions as a rare day of rest for the overworked during the Industrial Revolution. Kenneth C. Davis illustrates the history of Labor Day from Union Square to today.

Today in labor history, March 12, 1912: The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)-led “Bread and Roses” textile strike of 32,000 women and children ends after ten weeks when the American Woolen Company accedes to the workers’ demands. Soon, the rest of the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile companies followed suit and wages were raised for textile workers throughout New England.

Today in labor history, August 16, 2012: South African police open fire on a large crowd of men who had walked out on strike at the British-owned Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana, killing 34 workers. The miners – who earned roughly $400 a month – were on strike over wages. In contrast, Lonmin’s annual profits for shareholders in 2011 was $273 million, and its CEO was paid nearly $2 million a year.

Today in labor history, October 4, 1936: An estimated crowd of more than 100,000 trade unionists, anti-fascist activists, and local residents barricade streets leading into London’s East End to stop a march by British fascists. The 6,000 police officers who attempted to clear a route for the fascists were met with fierce resistance in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street and the march was re-routed.

Today in labor history, March 18, 1937: New York City police evict and arrest striking Woolworth clerks occupying stores and demanding a 40-hour workweek. Police were met with huge protests at the stores and the precincts where the workers had been taken. Once freed, the clerks returned to the stores and re-occupied them and, in the end, they won a one-year union contract, an eight-hour day, six-day workweek, and a 32.5 cent per hour minimum wage.

Today in labor history, February 25, 1941: The February Strike begins. It was a general strike in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands by workers against the pogroms and deportation of Jews in Amsterdam. It was the only direct action of its kind during World War II in Europe against the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. The strike is commemorated annually on February 25 at the statue of the De Dokwerker (“The Dock Worker”) in Amsterdam.

Today in labor history, October 31, 1891: In response to an ongoing attempt by coal mine owners to replace miners with convicts leased by the state, a group of miners burn the Tennessee Coal Mining Company stockade in Briceville and seize the Knoxville Iron Company stockade at Coal Creek, freeing over 300 convicts and supplying them with food and civilian clothes.

Today in labor history, June 15, 2000: In Quito, Ecuador, union and student demonstrators participating in a general strike are met with tear gas when they try to approach the Government Palace. Trade unions and grassroots organizations called for a general strike in the country against International Monetary Fund economic “reforms,” which included privatization of state-owned companies and other measures.