Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday

July 14, 2012

Woody Guthrie singing, Smithsonian Folkways image

Woody Guthrie singing, Smithsonian Folkways image – The sticker on Woody’s guitar reads, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”  Woody regarded music as a great tool of democracy and freedom.

July 14, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, folksinger, union organizer, chronicler of American values, troubles and change.

We’re already more than halfway through Woody’s centennial year — and what celebration took place at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub?  History slips by so fast.

Much celebration remains.  Get out your calendar and figure out which events you can join in.

Poster for the 2012 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma

Poster for the 2012 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma

Wonderfully, a website celebrates Woody’s 100th:

Perhaps fittingly, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub hits the road again, today — off through Oklahoma.

In the interim, get out there, get the history, and join in the chorus!

More, Other Sources:

Page from booklet of Woody Guthrie sheet music...

Page from booklet of Woody Guthrie sheet music and lyrics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then and now: Capitalism vs. Labor 1883, and today

April 2, 2011

Alas, it’s almost exactly the same now as then:

"Tournament of Today:  A set-to between Labor and Monopoly," Cartoon by Frederick Graetz, Puck Magazine, August 1, 1883 (from files of Georgia State University); click image for a larger view at Georgia State

“Tournament of Today: A set-to between Labor and Monopoly,” Cartoon by Frederick Graetz, Puck Magazine, August 1, 1883 (from files of Georgia State University); click image for a larger view at Georgia State

Information on the cartoon, from SuperITCH: Frederick Graetz, a chromolithograph that was the center spread for Puck Magazine‘s issue of August 1, 1883.  Monopolists portrayed are, from left to right, “businessman, financier and telecommunications pioneer Cyrus Field; railroad tycoon William Vanderbilt; shipbuilding magnate John Roach; financier, railroad mogul, and speculator Jay Gould; and an unknown monopolist.”  Some might say that the “unknown monopolist” bears a striking resemblance to one of the Koch brothers, but that’s fanciful thinking.

Cartoon - Labor vs Monopoly, Graetz, Puck 8-1-1883 (GSU image)

Labor vs Monopoly – click on this image for a larger version of this historic Puck Magazine cartoon

Tip of the old scrub brush to One Penny Sheet’s “condemned to repeat” feature.


Interesting parent/teacher conference coming in Wisconsin

February 24, 2011

What do you want to bet Wisconsin Gov. David “Ahab” Walker will skip the conference with his son’s teacher next time?

(From the Wisconsin Democratic Party)

The woman, Leah Gustafson,  is very brave.  This is the sort of thing that invites local retaliation by administrators, without even consulting with the governor’s office.  Let’s hope her district’s administrators have a clear understanding of the law, and will back her right to state her views.

Heck, let’s hope they agree with her views.  If they don’t, they should get out of the business.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Michael A. Ryder.

Left out of the textbooks: The Great Cowboy Strike of 1883

June 10, 2010

It wasn’t in the textbooks before, and after the Texas State Soviet of Education finished work on new social studies standards last month, the Great Cowboy Strike of 1883 remains a topic Texas students probably won’t learn.

Unless you and I do something about it.

From University of California at Davis's  Exploring the West Project: Cowboy at work, TX, c. 1905. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Erwin Smith photo. http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/khapp.php?SlideNum=2721

From University of California at Davis’s Exploring the West Project: Cowboy at work, TX, c. 1905. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Erwin Smith photo. http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/khapp.php?SlideNum=2721

In the history of labor in the U.S., the common story leaves out most of the great foment that actually drove progressive politics between, say, 1865 and 1920.  Union organization attempts, and other actions by workers to get better work hours and work conditions, just get left behind.

Then there is the sheer incongruity of the idea.  A cowboy union? Modern cowboys tend toward conservative politics.  Conservatives like to think of cowboys as solitary entrepreneurs, and not as workers in a larger organization that is, in fact, a corporation, where workers might have a few grievances about the fit of the stirrups, the padding of the saddle, the coarseness of the rope, the chafing of the chaps, the quality of the chuck, or the very real dangers and hardships of simply doing a cowboy’s job well.

Until today, I’d not heard of the Great Cowboy Strike of 1883.

Check it out at the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online:

COWBOY STRIKE OF 1883. In the two decades after the Civil War the open-range cattle industry dominated the Great Plains, then died and was replaced by closed-range ranching and stock farming. In West Texas during the 1880s new owners, representing eastern and European investment companies, gained control of the ranching industry and brought with them innovations threatening to many ranchhands. Previously, cowboys could take part of their pay in calves, brand mavericks, and even run small herds on their employers’ land. New ranch owners, interested in expanding their holdings and increasing their profits, insisted that the hands work only for wages and claimed mavericks as company property. The work was seasonal. It required long hours and many skills, was dangerous, and paid only an average of forty dollars a month. The ranch owners’ innovations, along with the nature of the work, gave rise to discontent.

In 1883 a group of cowboys began a 2½-month strike against five ranches, the LIT, the LX, the LS, the LE, and the T Anchor,qqv which they believed were controlled by corporations or individuals interested in ranching only as a speculative venture for quick profit. In late February or early March of 1883 crews from the LIT, the LS, and the LX drew up an ultimatum demanding higher wages and submitted it to the ranch owners. Twenty-four men signed it and set March 31 as their strike date. The original organizers of the strike, led by Tom Harris of the LS, established a small strike fund and attempted, with limited success, to persuade all the cowboys in the area of the five ranches to honor the strike. Reports on the number of people involved in the strike ranged from thirty to 325. Actually the number changed as men joined and deserted the walkout.

It was the wrong time to strike.  With a full month remaining before the spring roundup, ranchers had plenty of time to hire scabs and strikebreakers, to replace the striking cowboys.  Some ranches increased wages, but most of them fired the strikers and made the strikers crawl back to beg for jobs.  Santayana’s Ghost is tapping at the chalk board about the potential lessons there.  (You should read the whole article at TSHA’s site.)

It didn’t help that the striking cowboys didn’t have a very large strike fund, nor that they drank a lot of the strike fund up prematurely.

The Great Cowboy Strike, unimpressive as it was, is part of a larger story about labor organizing and progressive politics especially outside the cities in that larger Progressive Era, from the Civil War to just after World War I.  It involves large corporations running the ranches — often foreign corporations with odd ideas of how to raise cattle, and often with absentee ownership who hired bad managers.  The strike talks about how working people were abused in that era, even the supremely independent and uniquely skilled cowboy.  It offers wonderful opportunities to improve our telling the story of this nation, don’t you think?



Congratulations, graduates! You got hired! (Want to think about joining the union?)

May 25, 2009

No more comment necessary.

Tip of the old scrub brush to  . . . ramblings of the last American jedi . . .

Dad the Mechanic, vs. Joe the Plumber

October 22, 2008

Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes nails things down again. Tip of the old scrub brush, with extra bubbles, to JD2718.

My father tended to vote Republican, too.  For the first nine years of my life he remained a small business owner, in Burley, Idaho.  When the workers at J. R. Simplot went out on strike one November (1961 as I recall, but I was a child), it doomed several furniture stores in and around Cassia County, and my parents’ was just one.  For the rest of my life my father worked for other people, until he retired.

Still he voted Republican.  He even had a union card, from the old plumbers and pipefitters union in Los Angeles, from when he worked on Liberty Ships during World War II.  I never could figure it.

I do recall the stern lecture I got when I went to the Democrats’ mass meeting my first election, and then when I got elected as a delegate for McGovern and — the only one in my town, as I recall — I put up the McGovern bumpersticker (McGovern finished third in parts of Utah County, behind the American Party candidate).  My father told me that no one in the family had ever voted Democratic before.

It was a great comic scene, somthing right out of Woody Allen.  My father lecturing me about how voting Republican was rather a family duty, with my mother behind him shaking her head “no,” and mouthing “Don’t believe him.  Not true.  No.”

The only president I ever smuggled him in to see was Jimmy Carter.  Carter showed up in Salt Lake City, and spoke in the Latter-day Saints’ Tabernacle on Temple Square, as I recall.  I wangled the tickets, got Dad there and sat with him.  Better than Christmas.  Almost as good as when we watched Henry Mancini from nearly the same seats.

I don’t really know how my father would vote in this election, though.  He was nervous about the civil rights campaigns, about Martin Luther King, Jr.  He’d tell the stories about why he had problems with unions, about how the unions kept him from promoting African Americans he’d hire at United Cigar Stores in Los Angeles (before the Liberty Ship gig).  And he’d say that he wouldn’t have any problem voting for a black man who had a history of accomplishment in areas outside of civil rights, too.   He said he could vote for a black man from Harvard, someone who had the educational background of Kennedy, though he voted for Nixon against Kennedy (and Nixon twice more). Barack Obama might be the guy my father would have voted for.

Life sometimes imitates Thomas Kuhn’s observations about scientific revolutions.  Sometimes the children have to go vote the interests of the parents, especially when the parents don’t, or won’t.

My father voted against Lyndon Johnson, too — twice.  Johnson’s reforms of Social Security, designed to keep American senior citizens out of the county poor houses, kept my father out of poverty after he finally retired (at 75?  77?).  The Republican businessmen he’d put his faith in managed to squander the pension funds he might have had, or cheat him out of the share of the business that would have kept him from having to rely on Social Security.  My father put his faith in Republicans, but Lyndon Johnson rescued him.

I don’t know this “Joe the plumber.”  I knew my father, the former plumber and pipefitter, the erstwhile small business owner, the man who worked from the time he was 14 to help his family get enough education to get out of poverty, first his sisters in college, then his own family.  He never made enough to benefit from tax cuts for the rich.  My father was real, and deserved better.

Go read Mrs. Cornelius’s story.

Honor working Americans, fly your flag today

September 1, 2008

Labor Day, 2008 — in addition to honoring America’s working people, especially unionized working people, Labor Day is the traditional start of the presidential campaign in presidential election years.

What if we applied the false start rules the Olympics uses to presidential campaigns?

Fly your U.S. flag today. This is one of the dates designated in law as a permanent date for flag flying.

Miners and their children celebrate Labor Day, Littleton, Colorado, 1940 - Library of Congress

Miners and their children celebrate Labor Day, Littleton, Colorado, 1940 - Library of Congress

Here are some past posts on labor, and Labor Day:

History-minded people may want to look at the history of the holiday, such as the history told at the Department of Labor’s website.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Or this history at the more academic Library of Congress site:

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. After marching from City Hall to Union Square, the workers and their families gathered in Reservoir Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was initiated by Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader who a year earlier cofounded the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, a precursor of the American Federation of Labor.

McGuire had proposed his idea for a holiday honoring American workers at a labor meeting in early 1882. New York’s Central Labor Union quickly approved his proposal and began planning events for the second Tuesday in September. McGuire had suggested a September date in order to provide a break during the long stretch between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. While the first Labor Day was held on a Tuesday, the holiday was soon moved to the first Monday in September, the date we continue to honor.

American Memories at the Library of Congress has several photos of Labor Day celebrations in Colorado, in the mining country.

What do the unions say?  Among other parts of history, the AFL-CIO site has a biography of Walter Reuther, the legendary organizer of automobile factory workersSeptember 1 is the anniversary of Reuther’s birthday (he died in an airplane crash on the way to a union training site, May 10, 1970).

We’re off to a barbecue-style picnic at the in-laws.  Kenny is down from the University of Texas at Dallas, James still hasn’t begun classes at Lawrence University (which is too far to come from for dinner, anyway).  Family usually gets precedence in this house, so we miss the IBEW, UAW, and other union picnics we get invited to here.

We’re glad to have the day off.  Working people made this nation, and this world, what it is today.  We should honor them every day — take a few minutes today, give honor to workers.  Tomorrow, it’s back to work.


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