Tag Archives: Labor History

Workers’ Memorial Day — 150 workers died per day in 2014

AFL-CIO: “Workers Memorial Day”

AFL-CIO: Job Safety Info, Toolkit & Resources

The Nation: “In the Time It Takes to Read This Article, a Person Will Die at Work in the US”

By the time you’re done reading this article, roughly one person will likely have died from dangerous working conditions somewhere in America. It could happen in virtually any job, but it’s especially likely to happen to a Latino worker, maybe someone working on your office building’s roof. …

The roughly 3.8 million occupational injuries and illnesses reported in 2014 represent the myriad ways that the economy values capital over human life: from unmonitored toxic exposures at lucrative oil and gas fields, to construction workers falling from faulty scaffolding on million-dollar office towers ― 150 work-related deaths daily. Tragedy was often preventable, but risking lives more profitable. …

While the horrific headlines about mass shootings in offices and schools represent freak events, workplace violence has remained a glaring problem: In 2014, nationwide, a total of “765 worker deaths were caused by violence,” with the vast majority of killings involving interpersonal violence (and a few dozen caused by animals).

AFL-CIO: “Death on the Job” Report

This 2016 edition of “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” marks the 25th year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

More than 532,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which promised workers in this country the right to a safe job. Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved but at the same time some conditions have gotten worse and too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

In 2014, 4,821 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions. …

Workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for workers, especially for health care professionals and women, who suffered 66% of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence.

Remembering May Day & the Haymarket Affair

SEIU 1021: “Haymarket: Why this historic turning point for labor still matters”

The American labor movement first celebrated May 1 as a day for labor solidarity in 1886. … An event three days later in Chicago not only set the eight-hour-day movement back by years, but changed the course of labor history and the way that unions are viewed in this country. The May 4 Haymarket Square bombing and ensuing trial mark the labor movement to this day; more than 125 years later, we’re still dealing with its legacy.

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Labor Nation: Making history, day by day

Politico: “Mary Kay Henry named one of ‘Politico 50’ for 2015”

Politico’s annual list of the top 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics” this year features SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. Editors singled out Henry for her leadership in pushing for higher wages — specifically the Fight for $15, which has grown into a powerful national movement and has brought the income issue to the fore in the 2016 presidential race.

The Nation: “5 Vital Lessons from American Labor’s Rise and Fall”

America’s unions have been in retreat for decades — but can history point toward some fresh starts?

This labor day season, Steve Fraser’s book The Age of Acquiescence reminds us that America’s worker movement — one hundred years ago — was a rather militant creature compared to today. Then, it was worker militias, “bread and roses,” and unabashed class conflict; now, it’s defense and dwindling membership, and disappointing Democrats. How did we get here? Is there still power in a union?

Policy.Mic: “Here’s What’s Happening 2 Years After This Restaurant Started Paying Workers $15 an Hour”

On the outskirts of Detroit, where the minimum wage is $8.15, one fast-food restaurant has been voluntarily paying its workers $15 an hour for two years, and business is thriving.

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Tweet This: Journalists joining unions chart new course for unions and journalism

The Nation: “The Unionization of Digital Media”

A recent string of campaigns show that while unions at “legacy” newspapers are eroding, organizing still has a place in the digital space. …

Altogether, these staffs are small … . But the efforts are notable in what they suggest about the future of digital labor, and also in how they’ve engaged the public. … Still, beyond statistics, in terms of both influencing the media workplace and being a labor news story in itself, unionization is amplifying labor’s voice on emergent platforms. …

So despite the tech evangelism, new media suffer from some very old challenges. And, industry trend pieces notwithstanding, media unionization 3.0 is also a rebranding of an old story. There is a long legacy of media-industry organizing stretching back to the Great Depression … . Back then, media workers linked their cultural labor to systemic labor struggles, and, in word and deed told the stories that inked the Popular Front’s legacy in the public imagination.

HuffPost Media: “Al Jazeera America Digital Journalists Move To Unionize”

Digital journalists at Al Jazeera America have moved toward unionizing, joining a growing number of digital newsrooms that have organized in recent months.

In a mission statement released Thursday, employees said they “want to work with Al Jazeera management in a spirit of honesty, integrity and transparency — both to produce the news and to improve the workplace in which we produce it.” …

Since June, Gawker, Salon, Guardian US and writers at Vice Media have all organized. Al Jazeera America, like Guardian US, is represented by NewsGuild-CWA. The other three are working with Writers Guild of America East. Both unions are actively trying to organize other media companies.

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Celebrate Labor Day — Monday, Sept. 7

Celebrate Labor Day 2015

Celebrate Labor Day 2015

Find a Labor Council Labor Day Event

Complete statewide listings from the California Labor Federation. Includes counties of Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Napa, Solano, North Bay, Five Counties, Sacramento, San Francisco, and more.

AFL-CIO: Union-Made Labor Day Cookout Shopping List

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. While the day honors the hardworking women and men who make this nation go and grow, the weekend also gives us a chance for one more big backyard barbecue blowout. Here’s some union-made food and drink to get your barbecue off to a great start.

UnionPlus: Choose your favorite Labor Day hero

Cesar Chavez, Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Lucy Parson and more. Choose your favorite and be entered for a chance to win $500. No purchase required.

UnionPlus: “Collective Bargains” for union members only

Capital & Main: “The History of Labor Day” (video)

Why we take a day off work to celebrate work, courtesy of the History Channel.

More from SEIU 1021 In Solidarity:

“Reflections on Labor Day, Part 1: Does it still mean anything?”

“Reflections on Labor Day, Part 2: Why this day — and unions — still matter”

“Haymarket: Why this historic turning point for labor still matters in 2015”

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Reflections on Labor Day, Part 1: Does it still mean anything?

The Nation: “Longer Hours, More Stress, No Extra Pay: It’s Not Just Amazon, It’s the Modern Workplace” (8/26/15)

Our culture of work has so infiltrated our collective psyche that we like to think that we’re putting in long hours and responding to e-mails on the weekends because we’re devoted and ambitious. This is what journalist Miya Tokumitsu has skewered repeatedly in her writing: the “do what you love” ethos … that demands unending passion and therefore unending work, even if those long hours don’t actually mean we’re getting more done.

But while some employees call it a choice to put in long hours, it’s hard to see how that can really be true — for anyone. …

Amazon, Netflix, and Goldman Sachs are just the extreme end of the way all of our workplaces are heading: toward longer hours, higher demands, data to track it all in real time, and no extra pay to reward for all the stress. And we got here in large part because ours is an era marked by a low point in workers’ power. …

We are all pretty much expendable in a world where there is always a crush of workers trying to break down the door to a posted job.

At the same time, unions, an important lever of power for workers vis a viz their bosses, have all but disappeared, particularly for the most recent generation of workers. … And in the face of that disempowerment, we may be telling ourselves extreme demands are in fact voluntary choices.

The Atlantic: “When Labor Day Meant Something” (9/1/14)

Labor Day online specials at Walmart this year “celebrate hard work with big savings.” … The fact that Walmart “celebrates” Labor Day should draw laughter, derision, or at least a few eye-rolls.

But it doesn’t — or at least not many. Somewhere along the line, Labor Day lost its meaning. Today the holiday stands for little more than the end of summer and the start of school, weekend-long sales, and maybe a barbecue or parade. It is no longer political. Many politicians and commentators do their best to avoid any mention of organized labor when observing the holiday, maybe giving an obligatory nod to that abstract entity, “the American Worker.”

Labor Day, though, was meant to honor not just the individual worker, but what workers accomplish together through activism and organizing. Indeed, Labor Day in the 1880s, its first decade, was in many cities more like a general strike …

The labor movement fought for fair wages and to improve working conditions, as is well known, but it was its political efforts that did nothing less than transform American society. Organized labor was critical in the fight against child labor and for the eight-hour workday and the New Deal, which gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance. Union workers sacrificed in America’s historic production effort in World War II and pushed for Great Society legislation in the 1960s. …

These were victories that went well beyond the bread-and-butter issues of union members. They were shared achievements worthy of a national holiday for all.

Gawker: “Labor Day Is a Scam To Keep You Poor and Miserable Forever” (8/30/13)

The modern Labor Day is one of the major retail sales weekends, right up there with the ominous Black Friday of Walmart riots and the unsatisfied mobs haunting Day After Christmas sales. With 70 percent of retail workers kept as part-timers and low-end retail increasingly being a round-the-clock operation, Labor Day is likely to be just another day of labor for the nation’s worst-paid not-quite-employees. …

The burger-flipping robot and the self-service checkout computer are killing off the crappy jobs just as machines killed all the jobs in agriculture and manufacturing.

This is the worst part of Labor Day, for those who want to think about it: Nearly all remaining jobs will be eliminated, probably in your own lifetime! The American-led destruction of the labor movement has been remarkably successful, and three decades of aggressive anti-union propaganda has made the few remaining trade unions with their pensions and vacations seem decadent and greedy to people struggling with a shift at the Del Taco followed by a shift at the Walmart, leaving children and elderly parents with whatever member of the casual family is without paid work of any kind. …

The next mass movement, if it ever happens, will not be about increasingly scarce laborers, but about people in general. Nationalism, oxycontin, despair, television, alcohol and slob propaganda have all done a very good job of keeping the 80 percent of Americans who are “financially insecure” too worn down and miserable to realize they’ve got a common enemy.

New Republic: “Happy Labor Day. Are Unions Dead?” (8/31/14)

In no other advanced country is the entire political economy as relentlessly opposed to unionization as it is here. The U.S. has the most hostile anti-union management/ownership class, and corresponding conservative politicians and media to assist it, in the advanced world. The legal framework assumes that companies — the people who sign workers check — have a right to interfere with their right to choose a collective bargaining agent.

Workers do not get a corresponding right in the United States to participate with management in investment decisions. Anti-union activity is flourishing billion dollar consulting business. Laws to fight it are toothless. Today, decades after the National Labor Relations Act became law, Republicans don’t accept its basic legitimacy — and do everything they can to undermine the NLRB. …

What’s ironic about that is that unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts — and there’s nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract — to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with. …

If you have any concerns about the danger of large, concentrated private power and money — from the Koch brothers to the oil companies to the insurance companies — unions, even now in their weakened condition, are likely to be the loudest, most powerful ally you will have. …

At their best, unions try to make America a better place, not merely for their members, but for millions of others. …

In a democratic society, unions are a critical part of the political culture, at their best transcending the differences of race, gender, sexual orientation and much more that divide people from one another, providing a democratic space in civil society between the family and the state.

Go on! Read Part 2.

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Reflections on Labor Day, Part 2: Why this day — and unions — still matter

Pres. Richard Nixon: 1973 Labor Day Message

Corrupt and paranoid, the man forced to resign over the Watergate scandal hated unions as much as he hated long-haired, pot-smoking hippies, and vowed to crush the nationwide postal workers’ strike of 1970s. (The workers won that battle.) Still, unlike today’s Republican presidential aspirants, at least Tricky Dick occasionally said nice things about unions. An excerpt:

On Labor Day we pay tribute to the working men and women to whom America owes so much. On this day, we also give thanks for the fact that in our free society — more than anywhere else on earth — the laborer can enjoy’ the results of his labor and the freedom to choose where and how he will apply his skills. By working together, labor, management and government in America have achieved a standard of living and a climate of opportunity and individual rights unequalled in the history of man.

But in a competitive world, no matter how great our past achievements, we must not fall victim to complacency. The soul and sinew of American labor must continue to be a force for progress and productivity. The continuing vitality of our economy and, through it, of our entire way of life, rests in large measure on the willingness, understanding and cooperation of the working men and women of America. They have not failed us before and they will not fail us now.

Capital & Main: “This Labor Day Unions Remain a Beacon of Hope for Millions”

By Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation

From San Diego and L.A. to the Bay Area, we’re lifting up communities with higher wages. We’re protecting pensions so that workers can have security in retirement. We’re making sure health care is accessible and affordable. We’re ensuring that when workers get sick, they have a few paid days off. We’re striking back against wage theft and other ways bosses are cheating workers. And much more. Unions are still the driving force behind economic equality.

Labor Quotes: Unions & Labor

With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men, than any other association of men. – Clarence Darrow, labor attorney and civil libertarian

Strong, responsible unions are essential to industrial fair play. Without them the labor bargain is wholly one-sided. The parties to the labor contract must be nearly equal in strength if justice is to be worked out, and this means that the workers must be organized and that their organizations must be recognized by employers as a condition precedent to industrial peace. – Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

Labor cannot stand still. It must not retreat. It must go on, or go under. – Harry Bridges, former president of ILWU International (1937-1980)

The history of America has been largely created by the deeds of its working people and their organizations — there is scarcely an issue that is not influenced by labor’s organized efforts or lack of them. – William Cahn, labor historian

Every advance in this half-century — Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another — came with the support and leadership of American Labor. – former US President Jimmy Carter

The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor. – Thomas Donahue, former Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO (1979-1995)

Brainz: “Top 50 Best Labor Day Quotes”

1. “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” – Albert Einstein

15. “No labor, however humble, is dishonoring.” – The Talmud

16. “I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.” – John D. Rockefeller

17. “Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all weather of the world was originally purchased.” – Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

More from In Solidarity:

“Haymarket: Why this historic turning point for labor still matters in 2015”

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How labor’s past is creating its future (Part 2)

NY Times: “At Gawker Media, New Economy Workers Strive to Form a New Kind of Union”

Gawker Media workers [made headlines this month when they voted by a substantial margin to form a union, a first for a prominent digital media outlet. But the appeal of a union was clear to the employees, whose careers have been buffeted by instability and layoffs during the Great Recession and the unsettled economic recovery that has followed.

Washington Post: “Workers in America have problems. Meet the technologies trying to solve them.”

… a new generation of Internet-enabled applications aim to help workers navigate the modern employment landscape. … this new world of ideas breaks down into two basic categories: those applications that help workers cope with the realities of today’s job market, and those that help them act collectively to improve it.

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How labor’s past is creating its future (Part 1)

Politico Morning Shift: “Justice for Janitors campaign celebrates 25th anniversary”

Like J4J, [Fight for $15] is using comprehensive tactics — escalating worker walkouts since 2012, a website mocking McDonald’s’ budget advice for employees, a petition urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate franchising abuses — to squeeze fast-food corporations until they foster unionization of their franchisees. And like J4J, rather than training all their fire on a single company in hopes of making an example of it, the campaign is targeting all the main industry players at once, maximizing public attention and hoping at least one of the giants will buckle, and the others will follow.

SEIU: “Justice for Janitors: A look back and a look forward: 25 years of organizing janitors”

Bloomberg: “The Lessons Unions Learned From the ‘Justice for Janitors’ Protests”

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Haymarket: Why this historic turning point for labor still matters

Haymarket Square, May 4, 1886

Haymarket Square, May 4, 1886 – “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” —  August Spies, one of eight men convicted of the Haymarket Square bombing, moments before he was executed by hanging

The American labor movement first celebrated May 1 as a day for labor solidarity in 1886. On that day, as many as a quarter to half a million workers went on strike and held rallies across the country to call for an eight-hour work day. “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay!” was their rallying cry.

The date had been set two years earlier by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, which set May 1, 1886, as the target date to make the eight-hour day a standard.

But that didn’t happen. An event three days later in Chicago not only set the eight-hour-day movement back by years, but changed the course of labor history and the way that unions are viewed in this country. The May 4 Haymarket Square bombing and ensuing trial mark the labor movement to this day; more than 125 years later, we’re still dealing with its legacy.

What happened(?)

The rally began as a peaceful protest to support the eight-hour day and protest the killing and wounding of striking workers by Chicago police the day before at the McCormick Reaper Works. The organizers gave (long) speeches, and as the gathering (already smaller thanks to the arrival of rain) was about to disperse, the police arrived to break it up anyway.

To this day no one knows for sure who threw the dynamite bomb at that moment. What is known is that nearly a dozen people — police and protesters — were killed in the ensuing gunfire on the square, and scores more were wounded. Eight socialist and anarchist labor leaders were indicted, and four of them were quickly executed despite the total absence of evidence against any of the eight. In fact, the trial was completely rigged, with not only the media and public, but the judge and jury as well, openly biased against the defendants.

The setback

On one hand, the affair was a setback for the American labor movement, for it cemented in the public’s mind the image of workers and union activists as bomb-throwing anarchists intent on destroying prosperity. In a way, that’s not far from the picture union haters and the mass media present today.

“Making unions and union members seem un-American, crazy, greedy or corrupt is standard stuff in news coverage and has been all this time. Of course, corporate media and wealthy anti-unionists are usually more subtle now,” said Bay Area labor historian Fred Glass. “The bomb in Haymarket was a seen as an opportunity by factory owners and other bosses to crush the growing labor movement of the time by painting it as violent and radical.”

“In the late nineteenth century, soon after the events of Haymarket, Wall Street financier Jay Gould boasted, ‘I can hire one half the working class to kill the other half.’ Today the new plutocrats pretend to speak on behalf of non-union workers, and say things like, ‘Public employees make too much money; no one gets pensions anymore; why should they have special privileges?’ They still seek to divide workers.”

The comeback

On the other hand, the affair galvanized the labor movement and strengthened its resistance. The trial was widely recognized as the farce it was. Within a few years, the eight-hour-day movement was back on its feet, and the first international May Day celebration in 1890 was a huge success, celebrated throughout Europe and both North and South America. The “Haymarket Eight” became martyrs.

Indeed, already in 1887, President Grover Cleveland and Congress moved “Labor Day” to September to distance the celebration of working people from its strong emotional connection to Haymarket, fearing the power of that connection.

The more things change, the more they don’t

The society that gave rise to Haymarket is disturbingly familiar. In 1886, police cracked down on a peaceful rally of poor people seeking economic justice. Then as now, police and elected officials were more than eager to crush worker power to protect corporate interests. Indeed, even the eight-hour day is a fighting cause again as many workers today must work more hours just to make ends meet. “Robber barons” bought control of law and government while poverty and desperation overwhelmed the general population; in their day, Jay Gould and Andrew Carnegie seemed as powerful as the Koch brothers do now.

The media was, and is, happy to pipe their tune:

“You wouldn’t have known from the news coverage that most of the people killed at Haymarket were killed by the police, who fired wildly in a panic after the bomb was thrown,” said Glass. “Similarly, news coverage today of labor disputes usually buries central issues like addressing inequality beneath anecdotes about inconvenience to the public, or opinions that raising the minimum wage would put companies out of business.”

But if modern America is reverting to the worst extremes of economic inequality that characterized the 19th century, it’s also seeing a resurgence of labor like the one that followed Haymarket. Labor is big news again. Those on the bottom economic rungs are organizing in new ways and confronting the “titans of industry” — the Kochs and Wal-Marts, today’s robber barons — and winning. The nation-wide movement for an eight-hour day has become the nation-wide fight to raise the minimum wage.

The more things stay the same, the more they keep changing.

Learn More:

History Channel: Haymarket Square Riot

Chicago Historical Society: Haymarket Affair Digital Collection

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Falling Bombs: A look back at big strikes, Oklahoma City bombing

AllGov: “Are Large-Scale Worker Strikes in U.S. a Thing of the Past?”

Big labor actions, once common in the United States, have become nearly non-existent, according to government data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were only 11 major work stoppages — involving more than 1,000 workers — in 2014, equaling the second lowest total since the bureau began recording such information in 1947.

Huffington Post: “20 Years After Oklahoma City Bombing, Words Still Matter”
By J. David Cox Sr., National President, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO

It’s been 20 years since the horrific bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and much has been done since then to increase security and safety around federal buildings.

Sadly, there has been no such progress in eliminating the types of anti-government sentiments that drove domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to target federal government employees on that fateful day. …

Fortifying our public buildings only will do so much to protect the people inside. We all must fortify our hearts and minds against the hollow delusions of hatred and return to a truly civil discourse about our government and its employees.

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