Monday, September 07, 2009

Remembering Labour

. Monday, September 07, 2009

The picture to the left is the Haymarket Affair monument, on May Day 1886, the workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. in Chicago began a strike in the hope of gaining a shorter work day. On May 3, police were used to protect strikebreakers and a scuffle broke out; one person was killed and several others injured.

I walk past that mural whenever I take the Metra to visit friends living in Chicago's Pullman district; it pays homage to the workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company, who on May 11th, 1894 staged a wildcat strike in response to having their wages cut because of the depression of 1893. At the time, Pullman was a company town, so not only did the company cut wages to maintain profitability, it continued to extract pre-recession rent from those workers who lived in company-owned housing, and were forced to shop at the company store, which may or may not accept the company-issued script in which they were paid in "lean" times.

A national boycott was launched on June 26, 1894, within four days, 125,000 workers on twenty-nine railroads had quit work rather than handle Pullman cars effectively bringing railroad traffic west of Chicago to a halt, prompting president Grover Cleveland to order federal troops and marshals into Chicago, resulting in 13 workers being killed, and another 57 wounded.

It is the struggles of these men, and they were all men at that point in history, and others like them we commemorate today, all those who fought for the dignity and fair treatment of all who labour, from the lowliest of dirt farmers to hot shot financial analysts.

This labour day I’m pondering what the hell happened? How did America go from a nation of brave men such as these, fighting for what was right, to a nation of teabaggers, rednecks (who were and still are “scab” labour) and religious fruitcakes who are fighting against what would benefit labour – the right to organize and fight for higher wages and better working conditions, healthcare, education, clean air and water.