Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Shot Across the Bow?

Forida burglars snort
man’s ashes, thinking
they were cocaine.

As you no doubt know the United States (as well as some other countries) have had a very long history of labor strikes. Such strikes began in the U.S. as early as the 1790’s and have continued non-stop in one form or another up until the present time. In 1825, for example, carpenters in Boston struck for a 10 hour work day. In 1835 children working in the silk mills struck for an 11 hour, 6 day work schedule. By 1885 hundreds of thousands of workers were in the streets demanding an 8 hour work day. In 1890 the famous New York garment workers strike continued for 7 months until they finally were granted permission to unionize. In 1899 Idaho striking miners went so far as to blow up the Bunker Hill in Kellogg, Idaho. In 1903 occurred the Colorado labor wars. In 1914 Ford motors gave in to the unions went from $2.40 for a 9 hour day to $5.00 for an 8 hour day. In 1917 the Supreme Court approved the 8 hour work day under threat of a national railway strike. In 1926 the Railway Labor Act passed. Strikes have grown in intensity and violence over the years depending upon the amount of abuse workers were willing to accept. They were particularly violent in the early 1900’s when corporations employed strikebreakers to violently suppress them. In 1932 police killed strikers at Ford. By 1938 the Wages and Labor Act banned child labor and settled the 8 hour work day. In 1946 400,000 mine workers struck. In 1955 another textile workers strike. The New York city newspapers ended the longest strike in U.S. history in 1963. The Post Office workers struck for the first time in 195 years in 1970. Ronald Reagan fired the Air Controllers when they struck in 1981. My only point in mentioning these few events and the general pattern of labor/management problems is to point out that eventually the patience of workers does run out and they begin to resort to strikes and even violence to convince the powers that be they will no longer tolerate the conditions being imposed on them.

The problem has always been a result of powerful business interests demanding more and more from workers, more hours of work for less pay, no benefits, and so on. During most of the years mentioned above there was an almost constant demand for labor, workers arrived in the U.S. from China, Japan, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Mexico and many other places as well, welcomed as cheap laborers. It has always been about cheap labor, just as it is today. Except today we have a new problem, massive unemployment as a result of technological change and shipping jobs overseas. There simply are not enough jobs existing or being created in the U.S. to satisfy the available work force. This is a new form of labor abuse, basically telling workers they are no longer needed. But cheap labor is still in demand so we have allowed both legal and illegal immigrants into our country to continue this demand, and our corporations have not allowed the government to create jobs (as Roosevelt did) because that, too, would increase the price of labor (by shrinking the available labor force). And, since Reagan successfully fired the striking Air Controllers and destroyed their union the influence of labor unions, as well as their membership, has progressively declined. The once powerful union movement in the U.S., that gave us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour week, and at least some minimal benefits, has fallen into disrespect and, if Republicans have their way, will disappear entirely.

Interestingly enough, just yesterday (I think it was yesterday) a large number of sheetmetal workers in their hard hats and with megaphones burst into a private meeting of Mortgage Bankers demanding to know why there were no jobs resulting from the 900 million dollars the bankers had been given to create jobs. The bankers fled. If I were a banker these days, sitting on apparently two trillion dollars, and refusing to help out in this national crisis, I would take this seriously as a “shot across the bow” and change my ways before it becomes too late. Of course they could follow Jonathan Swift and suggest we begin eating our children.

Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labor; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.
Samuel Johnson

The giant African snail can grow to 15 inches from tip to tip and weigh up to 2 pounds.

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