Fight for $15 – Labor’s Big Bang or Not?

IMG_3693Will AFL-CIO Jump In?

 By Carl Finamore

There are only two flash points in American history where labor unions became center stage in politics.

I will call these “Big Bang” moments because they propelled the American Federation of Labor (AFL) after 1886 and the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) after 1935, from fledgling organizing committees into mass organizations directly impacting and attracting millions.

In the case of the AFL, it was due to avid support for the eight-hour day and in the case of the CIO, it was due to resolute support for union organizing of millions of previously excluded industrial workers.

There has never again been such mass acceptance and relevancy for labor, mostly because of numerous failures to grasp the historical moment. Continue reading

Mean Things Happening Here: the Southern Tenant Farmers Union

by Stuart Elliott

In the summer of 1934, a remarkable interracial union of tenant farmers was founded. Mean Things Happening, a 1993 PBS documentary on the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (SFTU) and depression-era organizing of the steel industry, has been much praised and is presented here.

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A Forgotten Labor Chapter of a Civil Rights Anthem

by Stuart Elliott

Country and Western singer and deejay Texas Bill Strength was probably the second artist to record “We Will Overcome, ” which with a minor word change became the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Joe Glazer had included it in the CIO’s Department of Education and Research  78-rpm album Eight New Songs for Labor, which also included Glaser’s classic “The Mill Was Made of Marble.”  Shortly after, Glaser taught the song to Texas Bill Strength who was hired by the CIO as part of Operation Dixie.

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Woolworth’s Sit-Down Strike in 1937 Detroit: Lessons for Today’s Low-Wage Workers

by Marc Norton

woolworth_sitinIn 1937, Woolworth’s was the Walmart of its day. The company had transformed the retail marketplace by creating a national chain of stores staffed by low-wage workers, mostly young women. The lunch counters in these stores, serving inexpensive food, were in some ways a precursor to today’s fast food mega-corporations.

So the story of a successful sit-down strike at a Woolworth’s in Detroit gives us some useful parallels for low-wage workers today. In the wake of the Walmart and fast food strikes on Black Friday and December 5, it’s worth asking where the movement is going. What are its goals? How can they be achieved? Are workers getting organized for the long haul? Are we on a path to victory?

The Detroit sit-down electrified the nation at the time, but has been relegated to a footnote in mainstream history, even among labor historians. A recent pamphlet by history professor Dana Frank at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) should resurrect this history and its lessons. Continue reading