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Unions: Showing The True Power of We

Today is ‘Blog Action Day’.  Once a year bloggers, like myself, focus their efforts to promoting one single idea.  This year the message is ‘The Power of We’.  The irony is that the Power of We is a majority of what I talk about.

Unions are the epitome of people working as one.  If one man stand in opposition nobody notices. When 1000 people stand together on a strike line people notice.  People have been working together to better our working conditions, wages, and communities for over a hundred years.

It began in the mills where children were forced to work for 14 hours a day for pennies. It was labor unions who brought this to national attention.  This set the stage for legislators to craft legislation that would protect all workers.  Now we have child labor laws, OSHA regulations, and minimum wage laws.  All of these can be traced back to a labor union and labor actions.

Take for example the Bread and Roses strike of 1912.  The workers, mostly women and children,  at the textile mills in Lawrence Massachusetts walked off the job in the middle of winter to bring attention to the appalling working conditions and wages.  The were fighting for a living wage. A wage that would give them ‘bread and roses too’.   Not long after the strike ended, Massachusetts became the first state in the Nation to pass child labor laws. They mandated strict policies for minimum age and maximum working hours for the thousands of children in working in Massachusetts Mills.

NYC Police watch as the fire consumes the building

Another very famous example is the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911.  This is the true story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and the 150 people who lost their lives due to completely unregulated textile industry.  The fire which started on the seventh floor, one floor below the main manufacturing floor,  quickly consumed the building.  Prior to the fire the company owners feared the women would steal fabric from the factory so they locked all the exits except one. This way the managers could watch as workers left to make sure they were not stealing.  As the fire raged upward the workers soon found out that the doors were locked and they were trapped.  In one of the most gruesome moments in American history, women trying to escape the fire, jumped from the eight floor to their death.

Labor Unions rise up together after Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

After the fire, labor unions in New York City were in outrage. They blamed the factory owners for the deaths of all of these workers.  Over 100,000 people filled the streets near the burned down building demanding answers. Their outrage went right to City Hall, where legislators crafted legislation to ensure that factories had adequate working space, fire extinguishers, and emergency exits that would never be locked.

Locked Out Workers from American Crystal Sugar

Labor Unions are still on the front lines today, fighting for the workers, and the communities they live in.  Here in New Hampshire were successfully fought back Right To Work (for less) legislation that has been proven to lower wages and increase poverty rates.  Teachers in Chicago just won an epic battle for the children of the Chicago School Districts. They fought for smaller class sizes, better quality books, and teaching materials.  Now the AFL-CIO is working to bring awareness to the American Crystal Sugar Lockout in Minnesota.  Workers at American Crystal Sugar have been locked out of their jobs for over a year now.

Workers standing together as one is the true ‘POWER OF WE’!



About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News
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