ON The Shoulders of Giants

Posted on January 11th, 2010 | by A Worker |

We stand on the shoulders of giants — the thousands and millions of working people who through the years and centuries have toiled and battled to win for us the many fruits of labor that we now see as simply standard.  Our history — the progression of working people from slavery and indentured servitude to modest economic comfort with workplace rights, at least on paper – has not been a straight line.  No, it has been a great mountain range of peaks and valleys with tremendous victories, like the abolition of chattel slavery and the Flint Sit-down Strike in 1937 that won union representation at General Motors and made the eight-hour-work-day the standard, and devastating defeats like the hanging of Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel in 1887 for having the audacity to fight for the eight-hour-work-day back then. But even in this defeat the seeds of victory were sown.

As the hangman pulled down the hood over August Spies face he managed to squeeze off a single sentence, perhaps more devastating than any bullet that could have been fired to save him.  “There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

Spies was right of course.  Although he and many others paid the ultimate price, the fight for the eight-hour-day won by the sit-down strikers was arguably the watershed moment in the US labor movement.  It led to a tidal wave of union victories that ultimately organized 36 percent of US workers. 

No one person or “great leader” has been the striving force for change.  No, it’s been the great masses of names untold, the commitment and the struggle of rank-and-file workers that has broken the bosses’ stranglehold on our share of the value that we create with our labor, and it will be us — the rank-and-file-workers – who once again lead the labor movement and our union to a position of power. 

There is much to learn and more to do, but if the ideas that you’ve read here intrigue you we invite you to join the Union Education Committee.  We want to use study groups and online sessions to educate our members about the untold story of labor history and to learn the tools we can use to empower the rank-and-file to be more effective and united union members.  We are all leaders, but we need to learn how and why we must lead.



Contact the Union Education Committee at unionedcom@gmail.com or 973-985-8089

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