Monday, September 24, 2007

On their backs

I worked nine hours today, which is about average for me. For some reason today felt particularly long, but then, while I was waiting for the trolley this evening I was reading "A People's History of the United States" and I came across this,

1835, twenty mills went on strike to reduce the workday from thirteen and a half hours to eleven hours, to get cash wages instead of company scrip, and to end fines for lateness. Fifteen hundred children and parents went out on strike, and it lasted six weeks. Strikebreakers were brought in, and some workers went back to work, but the strikers did win a twelve-hour day and nine hours on Saturday.

And then later,

A three-month strike of 100,00 workers in New York won the eight-hour day, and at a victory celebration in June 1872, 150,000 workers paraded through the city.

So that nine-hour day that wore me down today? That was bought on the backs of strikers, who sometimes gave their lives when militia were brought in to break up strikes in the 1870s. All of the things I enjoy in my working life; a lunch break, a paycheck instead of coupons at the company store, health insurance, workman's comp should I be injured on the job, sanitary and physically comfortable working conditions, were fought for at the ballet box and on the streets.

Zinn also writes,

...[After the Civil War] political elites of North and South would take hold of the country and organize the greatest march of economic growth in human history. They would do it with the aid of, and at the expensive of, black labor, white labor, Chinese labor, European immigrant labor, female labor, rewarding them differently by race, sex, national origin, and social class, in such a way as to create separate levels of oppression

I think much the same is going on today, a wealthy few is exploiting many, with separate levels of oppression being used "to stabilize the pyramid of wealth," but I also think it's important to recognize the backs we are standing on, as we continue to push against the classist, racist, sexist, and xenophobic forces that are expressed in our country's working life.

1 comment:

drh said...

And yet we have no labor movement (to speak of) anymore, and no one, not even the workers themselves are looking out for their interests.

People consider themselves so lucky when they have jobs that offer health insurance and a decent paycheck, that they're most certainly NOT going to rock the boat for something better.