Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Day for the Workers

First day of May, apart from ancient and pagan traditions celebrating springtime, fertility and suchlike in Europe, it remains the date when struggles of workers for economic and social justice are remembered and honoured. In the USA, in the 1920s, fear of communism was being spread by the ruling elite who could not afford to allow the nation's workers to become too well-organised. So, from 1920 1 May was observed as Americanization Day, later to be re-named Loyalty Day or Law Day. Labor Day was pushed back from May to September, its origins and symbolism largely forgotten.

Trades unions still exisit, of course, now de-fanged by successive conservative governments,leaving working people without any proper recourse to right wrongs perpetrated upon them. Corrupt corporations have today taken the place of European aristocracy and careless greedy industrialists. The People have been brainwashed into thinking that trades unions are, without exception bad, bad, bad. Even my husband, liberal-minded as they come, has been heard to mutter, "Trades unions were the problem!" I've attempted to persuade him otherwise!

What power do ordinary people now hold? None except for their votes at election times, which nowadays seem ineffective, results can be, and are, manipulated by the power of money. I find myself envying folk of the 1950s when ordinary people found their strength in the union movement. Some took things too far though, leading to unions' downfall at the hands of the late and dreadful Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and conservative administrations in the USA.

The unions were the only tool working people had. Now they have no effective tool at all. In the USA, even more than in Britain, workers ought to be starting movements to reclaim their power in order. Now it's the corporations needing a good de-fanging. But how?

The People, in the past, had strong agitators and leaders. In the USA, Mother Jones (1837-1930) for instance, once referred to in the US Senate as "the grandmother of all agitators." (See my archived post HERE.)

From "Mother Jones, "The Miners' Angel by Mara Lou Hawse
The nature of work and of workers was altered. Waves of immigrants and displaced farmers dug the nation's coal and forged its steel. All too often, they received in return only starvation wages and nightmarish conditions. Within these men smoldered the sparks of class conflict which Mother Jones would fan for 50 years. To these workers, she would become an anchor to the past and an arrow toward a better future."

Decades later there was Teamsters' Union leader Jimmy Hoffa, center of a long-running mystery, allegedly, murdered by the mafia in 1975, his remains never found. Hoffa was a far cry from Mother Jones though. Times had changed.

I knew hardly anything about Jimmy Hoffa, but in spite of my husband's assurances that he was "a criminal" I secretly suspected that any man who organised on behalf of his fellow-workers to oppose unjust employers, of whom there have always been a plentiful supply, couldn't be all bad. Conditions under which truck drivers worked in Hoffa's early days were unfair and unjust, forced to drive for long hours without breaks. They needed a strong voice to represent their complaints and a strong character to force improvements. They found both in Jimmy Hoffa.

Having now read many pages of information on line I'm still unsure what to make of Mr. Hoffa. One source has him as a Republican supporter - strange! But that could have been assumption following his run-ins with Robert Kennedy and the Kennedy family, also the fact that Richard Nixon granted him a pardon and release from a long prison sentence (Nixon probably having been promised $$$$$$$). More on Hoffa and his natal chart in archived post HERE.
Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.
Molly Ivins (1944-2007).

In the last few years we've seen mini-uprisings of workers - in Wisconsin; at Walmart stores; in the reporting of unfair conditions suffered by restaurant workers; dangerous conditions in industrial plants and factories highlighted here and abroad, as seen most recently at the West Fertilizer plant in Texas and the factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Slowly, so slowly and painfully hard to detect, is there really some faint light beginning to show through the cracks?


JD said...

Good post. The tide will turn at some point.
Be of good cheer :)

Anonymous said...

Unions, union leaders, and corporations can make odd bedfellows. I believe it's better to have state and federal regulations that circumvent the union middle-men, but forget that delusion. Too much potential corruption with the unions. Unions are great when they behave and perform as designed, though.

Please see:

Twilight said...

JD ~~ Thanks. I hope so JD - nature will see to it eventually that some semblance of balance returns.
:-) (That's me being of good cheer).

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~ Human nature makes corruption a danger in all things political and financial - that's a given. I don't know the solution, but what we have at present isn't it!

Union members ought to have the power to oust any corrupt leaders, just as we voters ought to have the power to oust corrupt representatives in congress and the WH - but we don't and they don't. Something is rotten in the system itself, I guess.

Thanks for the links - sad state of affairs.