I have been listening to Karl Marx’s Kapital Volume 1 audiobook through LibriVox recordings (non-profit) and following up with Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey lectures (which can be found for free online).
As I listened to the book and the evidence Marx gives of the unrelenting greed of capitalists during his time it causes me to consider our nations attitude toward labor, unions, and regulations. Focusing only on labor and the working conditions of laborers we should have such a great appreciation for those that sacrificed so much, including their lives to progress us to today’s working conditions that we take for granted.
Peter J. McGuire the “father” of Labor Day, May Day, and the founder of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Peter did more to persuade locally conscious union activists across the nation that a united national labor federation was essential and possible. McGuire wrote for a convention of the national conference of labor unions the that established the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions which in 1886 would reorganize as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) which still exists today as the AFL-CIO.
The first recorded labor strike was 1768 in New York, the journeymen tailors protested wage reductions, it marked the first time in American history that workers joined together in a common labor movement, their motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
1905 in Chicago, Illinois the IWW, the Industrial Worker of the World, or otherwise known as Wobblies was formed by leaders like William D. “Big Bill” Haywood, Eugene Debs, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and others. The Wobblies, believed that all workers should organize as a class. They also believed war represented the struggles among capitalists where the working poor die to make the rich richer.
1948 Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress their highest priority was the weakening of organized labor power. Republicans passed the Taft Hartley Act allowing states to enact laws banning union shops that mandated all workers to be a part of the union and pay dues. Southern states immediately passed Right to Work laws, twenty-two states have these laws today and union participation rarely exceeds ten percent.
In school we teach children about the discovery of America by Europeans. The “taming” of America through war. The revolution of America as an independent nation through war. The civil unrest and eventual re-unification of the U.S. through civil war. The triumph of the U.S. over deteriorating European relations not once but twice. The continuing influence The U.S. has had on other nation all across the globe through war. All against governments yet, we never teach the conflicts of the United States citizens have had over their own governments inability to empathize with the laborer in relation to the capitalist. Monuments in every state can be found to a general or some other military leader but very few labor leaders that influence our every day working conditions.
Children are the future, what we teach them will determine how they treat the generations before them, after them, and each other. If they are not taught that a person that works to the best of their own abilities deserves respect no matter what job they perform or how many hours they perform it, they are destined to be at the influence of the few and divided from the many. In 1916 a ferry of Wobblies attempted to dock in Everett, Washington, the local sheriff, backed by armed deputies and guards hired by businesses, asked “Who are your leaders?” A unified shout answered “We are all leaders!”
For us to keep and improve our standards we need to teach of the bravery, determination, and sacrifice that those leaders carried and inspired in others to fight for the dignity and humanity of all.