By John Hernandez
Copper Area News Publishers
Monday was Labor Day. The only government holiday that celebrates the accomplishments of the common man and woman, the American worker. Labor Day was first celebrated as a national holiday on June 28, 1894. It was the result of congress trying to regain the support of American workers after federal troops had been called in to end a strike that resulted in 30 American workers being killed and 57 wounded. This strike was known as the Pullman Strike.
In the 1890s the labor movement had become increasingly influential in national politics. It was not easy and many workers had struggled and even sacrificed their lives for the labor movement. That struggle and sacrifice would continue even through today.
One of the most notable strikes involving the deaths of union workers and their families occurred in the coal fields of Ludlow, Colo. in 1914. In that strike the United Mine Workers of America protested dangerous working conditions and the rate of pay which was tied into the amount of material mined rather than the work involved. The mining companies immediately removed the strikers and their families from company housing. The union then set up tent camps for the strikers and families. The National Guard was called in to keep the peace during the strike. The mining companies were allowed to form their own militia. The company guards started a firefight that would result in the deaths of 21 people including two innocent women and 11 children. Three of the dead were militia men. This became known as the Ludlow Massacre. It would lead to what is known as the Colorado Coalfield War considered the ‘deadliest strike in United States history’. The miners retaliated for the massacre after arming themselves. They attacked 10 mines in the area. Between 69 and 199 people died in the gun battles that followed. The strike would eventually end after the union depleted all their funds. The miners did not win anything but many of them would continue to work for worker’s rights.
In the 1930s the unions made steady progress thanks to President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Many of their gains were lost after World War II and the passing of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 which contained numerous measures to weaken unions. In 1954 union membership peaked at 35 percent of the work force. Today it is around 12 percent. Union membership in the private sector continues to decrease. Many corporations and conservative politicians typically Republicans have sought to demonize unions and weaken their political influence since the majority of union members tend to vote Democrat. Since 1967 as union numbers dwindled so too has middle class earnings. Before you consider that unions have out lived their purpose as conservative pundits would want the people to believe, remember the struggles of the working man and woman and what the unions have helped to bring to the American worker. A short list follows: Weekends, breaks at work including lunch breaks, paid vacation, sick leave, 8-hour work day and a 40-hour week. Other benefits include: Overtime pay. worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, pensions, work place safety and health regulations, Sexual Harassment Laws and American Disabilities Act, Social Security, minimum wage, military leave, and Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination).