Thursday, September 23, 2010

OPINION: Not Much To Celebrate For Workers On This Past Labor Day

Can We Talk?
By Jack Fairweather

This is written on the second Monday of September, 2010,
September 6, Labor Day. Traditionally a day of observance in honor of American workers.
There is not much to celebrate.
Conditions for workers, employed, unemployed and under-employed, are appalling.
While the productivity of those employed seems to rise, meaning more profits for employers, benefits for the workers continue to fall, more and more become jobless and finally, frustrated with a fruitless job search, they stop looking and join thousands not counted in unemployment statistics.
This is the first of two columns concerning workers in the U.S. and their fight through the years for fair treatment in return for their labor. It has been a long, long struggle and it’s still going on in a nation that has become a corporate state where middle class and under class workers have experienced a steady decline in their ability to effectively bargain for better wages, health care and other benefits that workers in 41 other industrialized countries take for granted.
We take a jump south now and travel to a junction in Columbus, New Mexico on the US/Mexican border. A sign at the junction of highways 11 and 9 directs you west down highway 9 to Hermanas and Hatchita.
Highway 9, a two lane blacktop, skirts the border for almost 100 miles to Lordsburg. There is not much to see. The shredded remains of blown tires, an occasional bit of clothing or abandoned backpack, sometimes empty gallon water jugs and, of course, Border Patrol vehicles.
There is nothing at Hermanas now. Nothing except the wraiths of history. A history that clearly spells out an attitude of business and industry that prevails and, some say, has come to stay, that workers, whether citizens or immigrants, legal or illegal, whether white, black, brown, red or yellow, have only the right to produce profits for their employers while surviving on wages meant to keep them in powerless positions.
In the early 1900s, southern Arizona and New Mexico were home to huge mining operations. The managers and engineers controlling these mines were, in turn, controlled by other interests, stockholders and banks. In 1917, at the height of the First World War, copper prices reached unprecedented levels.
The companies reaped enormous profits. The more than 5,000 miners in and around Bisbee in southern Arizona did not. While mining companies paid relatively high wages, working conditions for miners were no better than before the copper market crash of 1907-1908.
Inflation caused by the war increased living expenses and wiped out any gains miners had seen in their wages. Mexican workers were not allowed to work inside the mines. They were given lower paying jobs outside. Southern European miners did work inside the mines but only at lower paying jobs.
This situation provided fertile ground for organizers from the International Workers of the World. The I.W.W., founded in 1905, never recruited more than 5 percent of trade unionists in the U.S. In Bisbee union organizers were successful, recruiting many minority workers. In June, 1917, the union presented a list of demands to the Bisbee mining companies. Those demands included improvements in working and safety conditions like an end to blasting inside the mines during shifts, two men on each machine and an end to discrimination against members of labor organizations and unequal treatment of foreign and minority workers. All of the union’s demands were refused. A strike ensued and the companies, firmly in control of the authorities in the towns and counties where they were located, including Cochise County (Bisbee/Douglas) law enforcement, retaliated with arms and violence.
At 2 a.m. July 12, 1917, two thousand “deputies” began to assemble. No state or federal official was notified of the vigilante’s plans. The Bisbee Western Union office was seized , preventing any communication into or out of the town. At 6:30 a.m. Sheriff Harry Wheeler gave the go ahead. The roundup began. Men were rousted from their beds, their houses and the streets. The vigilantes, all of whom were armed, were later accused of beatings, vandalism and of abusing women. Two men died during the roundup. A miner shot a “deputy” and was promptly riddled by bullets fired by other vigilantes.
Over a thousand men, including many who were not strikers, or even miners, were marched to a ball park. They were surrounded by company vigilantes and were given one chance to join with the “deputies” and wear the white arm band that distinguished the raiders from their victims. At 11 a.m. a train arrived and 1,186 men were loaded into cattle cars inches deep in manure.
Nearly 200 armed guards accompanied them and a machine gun was mounted atop the train. The train traveled to Columbus, New Mexico where it was turned back because there were no accommodations for that many men. It returned to Hermanas where the men were abandoned without food or water. A later train did bring water and food rations but the men remained without shelter of any kind until July 14 when U.S. troops arrived. The men were taken back to Columbus and many were detained for several months.
In the meantime, the mining companies continued to do as they pleased. All roads around Bisbee were guarded to insure none of the deportees returned. A kangaroo court was established to try other people considered disloyal to the mining companies. Further, it was established that what has become known as “The Bisbee Deportation” violated no federal law and the State of Arizona took no action against the corporate interests.
That was then. This is now…and fully 93 percent of the workers in the U.S. today are non union. In the private sector they are prevented from organizing due to labor laws that have been deliberately weakened over the years by the corporate state and a gutless political establishment.
We’ll talk about that later.

No comments:

Post a Comment