Monday, July 3, 2017

Strikes, child labor, lynchings, The National Guard, The Espionage Act

Paraphrased from A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

At one of the mills--Polish women--shut down their looms and walked out of the mill as their wages became further reduced. Soon ten thousand workers were on strike. Because mass protests occurred in one city and the strikers grew to 50,000 workers that rioted for weeks in the streets. Martial law was then declared with 22 companies of militia and two troops of cavalry occupying the city. Mills were not working amidst of many strikers being sentenced to a year in prison and a young Syrian striker, John Ramy, was bayoneted to death.

Local authorities had passed laws to stop them from speaking; the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) defied these laws because thousands upon thousands of workers left factories to protest the dangerous conditions of their work. For example there was "dangerously broken few and so dirty...The wooden floors that were swept once a year...Hardly any other light but the gas jets burning by day and by night...the filthy, malodorous lavatory in the dark hall. No fresh drinking water...mice and roaches...suffered from the cold...suffered from the heat...youngsters together with the men and women toiled from seventy and eighty hours a week" and including the toxins produced within the factories such as lead.

Among the strikes, protests and picketing, children were going hungry and officials were threatening to take children away. So with the help of socialist groups in surrounding regions, children were taken in temporarily. A group of 40 children assembled on February 24 to go to Philadelphia where they were met with police that filled the railroad station. The police used their clubs to beat the mothers and then were dragged into a military truck with their children. One woman that was beaten while she was pregnant ended up giving birth to a dead child. Not only did the strike confront these issues of dangerous work, low wages, but also that laws such as segregating whites from blacks in meetings was addressed as well as teachers being automatically fired when they became pregnant.

Out of this, unions were formed, workers got their jobs back, some were paid higher wages, some workers' hours were reduced from 17 hour to 9 hour work days. In this time, women's suffrage movement, and the ideas of feminism, socialism and anarchism became popularized. In 1912, women that were doctors, lawyers, architects, actresses and sculptors, waitresses, domestics all marched lining the streets. Emma Goldman spoke that women should refuse to bear children if they don't want them, women should refuse to be a servant to God or anyone, and that no one owns her body except her. Helen Keller questioned: "what good can votes do when ten elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one eleventh to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?" And Keller joked that she would write a book titled "Industrial Blindness and Social Deafness" to her critics that told her because of her deafness and blindness that she is liable to error.

Mother Jones focused on organizing for an end to child labor where 284,000 children between 10-15 worked in mines, mills, and factories. She wrote that in 1903 in Kensington, Pennsylvania, 75,000 textile workers were on strike for better wages and shorter days. 10,000 of those strikers were little children. Jones described that some children had no hands or had a thumb missing, some with their fingers off at the knuckle, and so Jones was moved to take some of the children including their parents to march with banners that read: "We want time to play," and "We want to go to school!" Theodore Roosevelt refused to see them and many organizers were arrested for cases of free speech, pacifist speaking, defense work, and strike organizing.
While these strikes went on in the North, blacks in the South were facing much more injustice. There were lynchings every week, murderous riots against blacks. No President in history cared about the lynchings of black people, which prompted The National Afro-American Council formed in 1903. Another group formed known as the National Association of Colored Women. W.E.B. Du Bois was a voice during this time as the first person of African decent to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. Du Bois in 1915 of Atlantic Monthly wrote about imperialism of Africa and the roots of war that stemmed from the conquest of gold and diamonds in South Africa, the cocoa of Angola and Nigeria, the rubber and ivory of the Congo, the palm oil of the West Coast.
 Du Bois was also the only black officer, first editor of the NAACP periodical The Crisis. This came after a race riot in Springfield, Illinois. Life got worse for many people who joined organizations, unions, or any groups that seemed to be affiliated with socialism or communism. These groups were seen as a threat to the government and corporations that manipulated the government. In fact, many riots and strikes ended with the National Guard beating or killing strikers who only wanted better pay and better working conditions.

In one instance in 1914, the murder of one coal miner who was fighting against low-pay, bad conditions, feudal domination of their lives in towns controlled by the mining companies themselves ended in the Ludlow Massacre. 11,000 miners in Colorado were on a coal strike and the National Guard used a machine gun to attack the miner's tents. Even after attempted communication between the miners and the guardsmen, the National Guard continued to fire at the tents which killed 13 people and sent women and children to run for the hills. After that, 5,000 people demonstrated in front of the capital in Denver asking for the guardsmen to be tried for murder, but this frustrated the government and 56 men, women, and children were killed.

Additionally, the Espionage Act of 1917 was used to imprison American who spoke or wrote against the war. One person named Eugene Debs spent 10 years in prison, and about 900 people went to prison under the Espionage Act during this time. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman had already spent 14 years in prison for opposing the draft for the war. Even some people were brutally mutilated for being outspoken.

There were many labor strikes in all different types of factories from shirt workers, electrical workers, broom workers, trash collectors grave diggers. Even within the rubber plant companies alone there were strikes at Firestone, Goodyear, and General Motors. The rubber plant strikers used a sit-down tactic that kept them safe and sheltered from the outside. There were 48 sit-down strikers in 1936, and 447 in 1937. With the rubber plant factories, and the biggest strikes called in the National Guard to break up the strike. Actually, 30 members of a National guard company who participated in the Fisher Body sit-down strike had not been paid. Years later, the Supreme Court even declared sit-downs illegal.

This is a reminder that this is still happening in 2017. Rioters are continually beaten and shot at by the military and police that work for the government. One example of this is the Black Lives Matter protests that always face heightened security and police brutality--not to mention the reason BLM exists because of the Black lives that consistently murdered everyday because of the White police and military. Another example is of the brutal attacks from the National Guard against the Standing Rock protesters. Many of the protesters were in sub zero temperatures all while the police/military forces blasted them with cold water and beat and shot them. One person's arm was mutilated by an officer. But what came out of that was the Pipeline started running (even after it started leaking immediately which was one of the main reasons of the protest), and instead of justice being served: people ended up going to jail and have to pay a fine for being a protester. People are still fighting for basic rights like water in Flint, Michigan. People are still fighting for better wages because of inflation of consumer goods. People are still fighting for human rights across the world because of war, poverty, rape, imperialism and neocolonization.

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