The union movement in the United States has historically been one of the most productive weavers of the fabric of American culture.
Organized labor is primarily responsible for virtually every piece of social legislation ever enacted to help working men and women, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, minimum wage and health and safety in the workplace, among many others.
These benefits are taken for granted today by most Americans. They are used — and sometimes abused — by recipients who generally don’t give a damn how they came about.
Perhaps if they were told the real story of how union men and women fought and sometimes died for these rights, they might not choose to believe it; anyway. If Fox News would pronounce the real story a big, fat lie, they would believe it.
But workers’ benefits are now part of the foundation upon which society is based — even though the unions and others who fought for the legislation that created them were vilified as un-American and worse during the heat of the battle.
In fact, what American citizens today consider their “rights” were won by unions after much blood was shed by workers and their families.
In fact, the blood of thousands of workers, mostly coal miners, flowed within states of Teamsters Joint Council 3 during the early 1900s. All the states within the council were the scenes of labor strife. Coal miners were mostly European immigrants and were among the most persecuted workers in American history.
For example, in 1917, 168 miners died horrible deaths after an exposed electrical cable was touched by miner’s carbide lamp in the unsafe Granite Mountain coal mine near Butte, Montana. Underground mines were notoriously unsafe in those days.
Colorado was the scene of several corporate-sponsored attacks on workers earlier in the century, including a battle in 1904 between the Colorado militia and striking miners at Dunnville, a town in the Cripple Creek mining district. The conflict ended with six union members dead and 15 arrested. Some 10 years later in 1914 two women and 11 children were burned to death in the infamous Ludlow Massacre in Southern Colorado after the state militia attacked a strikers’ tent colony.
In Arizona in 1917, the “Brisbee Deportation” occurred when several thousand armed vigilantes forced more than a thousand Brisbee workers into box cars, already laden with manure, and sent them into the New Mexico desert in retaliation for a strike by workers seeking improvements in working conditions at local mines.
Salt Lake City was the site of the execution of labor organizer Joe Hill who was convicted of trumped-up murder charges despite worldwide protests two futile attempts by President Woodrow Wilson to stop the execution.
At the turn of the century from 1899 to 190l U.S. Army troops occupied the Coeur d’Alene mining region in Idaho to quell violence in a widespread labor dispute that started when mining companies hired scabs to replace striking miners.
These were not isolated cases. The 20th Century was replete with labor strife in the United States. Thousands of working men and women—123 women and young girls were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911—were killed striving for workplace rights, which some workers believe were given to them out of the kindness of their employers’ hearts.
Labor history is rarely taught today in public schools. If it is, it is seldom taught well, which has caused a huge problem for contemporary American workers.
The schools don’t provide them with a union legacy, and neither do their parents, most of whom have never been union members themselves. Many of today’s workers—both union and nonunion—don’t realize what organized labor has done for them, and will continue to do for them.
What a shame.