Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Struggles

¡Hola! Everybody…
It is on days like today that I miss great Americans like Howard Zinn, who never failed to remind us never to forget…

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-=[ The Ludlow Massacre ]=-

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.

-- James Baldwin (1924–1987)

I hope that you have had an opportunity to gather with friends and family to observe the many that died in order to make certain things we take for granted today. Stuff like fair wages, the 40-hour week hour week, and vacations, for example, are a reality today because people fought for those rights.

That's OK, our Corporate Media and their bland whores -- the well-paid, hair-sprayed teleprompt readers -- would never focus on such a history. No, I don’t blame you for forgetting about Labor and its impact on our lives. After all, there’s much more important stuff to think about.

The history of Labor in the USA is one that is rarely ever discussed and until recently, you would be hard put to find any historical documentation on its history. There is a good reason for this: it’s not a very pretty history. For those of us of a conservative orientation who like to mouth clichés about the “good ole days,” well, they weren’t so good.

Not unless you consider child labor, or the lack of safety in the workplace leading to disease and death, as good. One school teacher, Samuel Yellin, wanted to teach Labor history to his high school students but was unable to find a textbook, so he wrote his own, American Labor Struggles. Until Howard Zinn and some others, this was the only book that documented the history of the US government’s and Big Business’ shameful response to the Labor movement.

One of the more heinous of episodes, now known as the Ludlow Massacre, reads like something out of a fascist government -- which is what corporatization (rule by corporations) is, in fact. When I first read this as part of a deal I made with my then high school-aged son, I was shocked that such things, with all our lip service to individual freedom and fairness, happened in the United States:

On April 20, 1914, 20 innocent men, women, and children were killed in the Ludlow Massacre. For some time, coal miners in Colorado and other western states had been trying to join the UMWA for many years. They were bitterly opposed by the coal operators, led by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.

As a result, for their striking, the miners and their families had been evicted from their company-owned houses and had set up a tent colony on public property. The ensuing massacre was a carefully planned attack on the tent colony by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, and thugs hired as private detectives and strikebreakers. They shot and burned to death 20 people, including a dozen women and small children. Later, investigations would reveal that the tents were intentionally set on fire. The miners had dug foxholes in the tents so the women and children could avoid the bullets that randomly were shot through the tent colony by company thugs. The women and children were found huddled together at the bottoms of their tents.

The Baldwin Felts Detective Agency had been brought in to suppress the Colorado miners. They brought with them an armored car mounted with a machine gun--the Death Special-- that roamed the area spraying bullets. The day of the massacre, the miners were celebrating Greek Easter. At 10:00 AM, the militia ringed the camp and began firing into the tents upon a signal from the commander, Lt. Karl E. Lindenfelter. Not one of the perpetrators of the slaughter were ever punished, but scores of miners and their leaders were arrested and black-balled from the coal industry.

A monument erected by the UMWA stands today in Ludlow, Colorado in remembrance of the brave and innocent souls who died for freedom and human dignity.

Today, people enjoy taking potshots at Unions. Much of this is the result of a media controlled by the very forces that opposes organized labor; some of it is the result of bonehead actions taken the union leaders themselves. However, the only thing standing between you (if you’re not a CEO) and complete servitude are unions, which is why Corporate Christianity abhors the Labor Movement.

I find it hard to write about individual improvement when there is so much denial going on in our country. To stay quiet during times of atrocity is to be complicit in its crimes. This was the example of the Wiemar Republic -- the epitome of Western Civilization. Most of those people weren’t evil, they just didn’t act. There was too much to do, they were too busy, going about the time-consuming activities of daily living to do anything. So after the butcher, the Jew, the homosexual, and then the teacher were gone, there was no one around to help when they came for them.

In the past, people have asked me to write about actions we can take to improve things. That comes later. Before we can act, we must become aware. I write in the hopes that even one person can gain some awareness. Mass movements of social change are founded in this notion of enlightening one mind at a time. History shows us, as Margaret Meade observed many years ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

I will leave you with the words of someone who was a lot better at this than I will ever hope to be:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” Edward R. Murrow said in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

Remember to give thanks to all those men, women, and children who had the fuckin’ cojones to lay down their lives for their convictions, so that we could have better lives.



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