The Right,  Trade Unions

Sorry, Newt

Here’s the flaw in Newt Gingrich’s cunning plan to fire unionized janitors and replace them with children: even working children have been known to (shudder) organize unions.

This is from a 1903 report in McClure’s magazine about child mill workers in coal-mining regions of the United States (quoted in A Pictorial History of American Labor):

They worked ten hours a day. Most of them worked standing all of the time except at the noon hour …. The pay was poor for the long hours, but the money was needed in a miner’s family. Indeed, some of the girls were working because their fathers had been injured in the mines or even killed. Wages ranged from $1.25 to $3.00 per week . . .

Just as the boys in the mines had junior locals, so did their sisters in the mills have a union. The weekly meeting, it was reported, was the great event in the life of every child in the coal fields. When attending meetings members of the girls’ unions wore “the same clothes that they would wear to church.” The debates were about wages and hours and working conditions. Often the discussions led to serious action, strikes.

The girls asserted themselves almost as often and with almost as much strength as the dirty, grimy miners. Sometimes an injustice done to one girl would arouse the feelings of her sisters.

One strike was called when a very little girl began to grow crippled from operating a treadle. She became so lame and ill that she had to stay home for a week and go to bed. During that time a large boy was hired to do her work. He was, of course, paid more money. When the girl retuned, the boy was fired and the girl put back on the treadle. The boss refused to find other work for her.

In the words of a young leader of the union, “Shall we stand for it, girls, for seeing her grow up a cripple and the union not doing nothing, not reaching out no hand for to help? We that believes in the rights of man?”

Some had fathers who were striking, but the vote was unanimous.

“We had the resolution [to strike] written out nice on a typewriter,” the leader said. After two days the boss gave in. The boy worked at the treadle and the girl was placed at work at a bench.