Tag Archives: pinkerton detective agency

Why Labor Day Matters

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_City

The First Labor Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” 

It is hard to believe that at one time workers had no rights. It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. There were many instances when this cost them their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

Lawrence Massachusetts Textile Strike; the National Guard with Bayonets Fixed against unarmed strikers

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

1024px-Ruins_of_Ludlow_restored

Aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre (above) and the Bisbee Deportation (below)

BisbeeDeportation

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died.

Image_of_Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_1911

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. He said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

International_Ladies_Garment_Workers_Union_logo

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today. 

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Oh, by the way…. If you see a meme on Facebook telling you to “thank the troops” for Labor Day, it is a bullshit meme. We troops have our days. Labor day is not ours. Labor Day is a day to remember those civilians, some of them former troops, but civilian labor leaders, organizers and unions; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their efforts; which paved the way for workers today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under economics and financial policy, History, labor, laws and legislation, leadership, Political Commentary

The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam 17 September 1863

“Of all the days on all the fields where American soldiers have fought, the most terrible by almost any measure was September 17, 1862. The battle waged on that date, close by Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg in western Maryland, took a human toll never exceeded on any other single day in the nation’s history. So intense and sustained was the violence, a man recalled, that for a moment in his mind’s eye the very landscape around him turned red.” Stephen W Sears

“I have heard of ‘the dead lying in heaps’, but never saw it till this battle. Whole ranks fell together.” Captain Emory Upton, 2nd U.S. Artillery, at Antietam

“We were in the very maelstrom of the battle. Men were falling every moment. The horrible noise was incessant and almost deafening. Except that my mind was absorbed in my duties, I do not know how I could have endured the strain.” Lt. Frederick L. Hitchcock, 132nd Pennsylvania, at Bloody Lane, Sept. 17, 1862

To the west of Frederick Maryland a small town named Sharpsburg sits on the west side of a creek. Named Antietam the creek’s headwaters are in Franklin County Pennsylvania and it meanders south where just to the south of Sharpsburg it empties into the Potomac River.

It is a peaceful place, rolling hills and agricultural country with some well preserved stone arch bridges, including one just outside of Sharpsburg. It is hard to believe that 150 years ago the town and the creek were the scene of the bloodiest single day of battle in American history.

On that indian summer day of 1862 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E Lee, commanding made a stand against the much larger Union Army of the Potomac, Major General George B. McClellan, commanding.

Lee had invaded Maryland following a string of successes in Northern Virginia during that summer of 1862, defeating McClellan outside of Richmond in the Seven Days, and in a campaign of maneuver bested a newly formed Army, the Union Army of Virginia commanded by Major General John Pope defeating it at the Second Battle of Bull Run between 28-30 August 1862. With Northern Virginia’s crops and livestock depleted and his opponents in crisis Lee moved his army north into Maryland. The decision was driven partly by the need to provision his army, but also had the hope of drawing Maryland away from the Union mistakenly believing that public sentiment in that state was pro-Confederate. If the people of Maryland rose up to support Lee it would be disastrous to the Union and endanger the capital itself. A final consideration was the hope that a Confederate victory on Northern soil would bring about the foreign recognition and possibly the intervention of Great Britain on the side of the Confederacy.

The Lost Order

Lee crossed the Potomac on September 3rd and sent his Second Corps west with some elements seizing the Union armory in Harper’s Ferry, others to secure the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Martinsburg the rest of the Army was in the area of Frederick. He was pursued by the very cautious McClellan at the head of the Army of the Potomac.

On September 9th Lee issued General Order 191, the infamous “lost order” which a copy of which was found by Union soldiers wrapped around three cigars at a campground recently occupied by Lee’s rear guard element, the division of D.H. Hill on September 13th. The order detailed the disposition of Lee’s army and McClellan seized the opportunity. On the 14th the Army of the Potomac attacked part of Lee’s army at the Battle of South Mountain. The Union won that battle forcing the outnumbered Confederate forces to withdraw, though the delay allowed Lee to concentrate more of his army at Sharpsburg on the 15th.

Although he outnumbered Lee McClellan believed the reports of the Pinkerton Detective Agency which provided intelligence to the army. Those estimates which credited Lee with more than 100,000 troops. He delayed his attack until he had drawn up his full army on the on the 17th.

When he did attack on the 17th his attacks were uncoordinated and though he came close to decisive breakthrough Lee’s army desperately clung to its positions. The action began to the north of the town in the morning and both sides showed incredible ferocity at the Cornfield, where in the space of about three hours nearly 8000 soldiers were killed or wounded. The fighting shifted to the center of the line opposite the town by mid-day. Amid the destructive storm of artillery the armies fought around the Dunker Church and a sunken lane now known as “Bloody Lane.” In the confines of that 800 yard stretch of road over 5000 soldiers were killed or wounded in the course of about four hours. The Union forces broke the Confederate line but reinforcements were not sent and when the the division commander, Major General Israel Richardson was mortally wounded the attack lost its verve and the Confederates under Lieutenant General James Longstreet were able to restore the line.

The south remained quiet as McClellan ordered Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps to hold off on attacking. Burnside did not receive his orders to attack until 1000. He finally attacked across the south bridge, now known as Burnside’s Bridge in the afternoon. It was another tough fight and Burnside, after several attempts move to the south to flank Confederate forces in the late afternoon with the intention of cutting Lee from off his only escape route.  The Confederates were in a desperate condition. It was at this point, about 3 PM when the division of Major General A.P. Hill arrived and immediately counterattacked breaking up Burnside’s attack. Burnside requested reinforcements from McClellan who refused saying that he had none available. This was not the case, McClellan had two full corps of infantry uncommitted to the battle but still believing that he was outnumbered and that Lee was attempting to trap him.

The actioned ended by 530 PM with both sides rested and reorganized for action the next day. Lee prepared to defend but no Union attack was offered on the 18th. An informal truce was observed to allow the evacuation of the wounded and Lee began his withdraw across the Potomac into Virginia that night. Despite being goaded by Lincoln to pursue McClellan did not and the Union lost the opportunity to destroy Lee’s army n Union territory.

Casualty estimates vary but according to Stephen W Sears in his book Landscape Turned Red that the Army of the Potomac lost 2108 dead, 9540 wounded and 753 missing. He states the best estimate of Confederate casualties are 1546 dead, 7752 wounded and 1018 missing. Most of the missing were likely killed and buried in mass graves or discovered and buried by civilians after the battle. In the space of 12 hours 22719 Americans were killed or wounded. It was the bloodiest single day in American military history.

Though the battle was inconclusive in that Lee’s army survived but had to break off its offensive it had more influence than expected. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd and though it did not take effect until January 1st 1863 it marked a turning point in the war.

McClellan failed to take up the offensive in the next tow months and Lincoln relieved him of command giving the Army of the Potomac to Burnside who goaded by Lincoln took the army into battle at Fredericksburg where it met with defeat.

I have been to the battlefield a number of times, once as part of a “staff ride” with the Marine battalion that I was assigned in May of 2000. Each time I go I take the time to ponder the great losses endured by both armies and the individual courage of the soldiers involved. Some of the units that I served with in the Army National Guard in Texas and Virginia trace their lineage and honors to regiments that fought at Antietam and I have felt a connection to the battle because of that. It is hard to imagine the amount of death and carnage taking place in such a placid location in such a short amount of time.

It is something to ponder when some Americans openly suggest another civil war if their party does not win the election.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, History, Military