Remembering Labor on Labor Day

Parade, Copper Miners' Strike, Calumet, Michigan, 1913

Parade, Copper Miners’ Strike, Calumet, Michigan, 1913, photo by Wystan

Labor Day has become little more than a three day weekend, and labor and labor unions are often frowned upon. Before you go out and enjoy that extra day off, you might take a moment to reflect that the 5-day week of 8-hour days that we take for granted was won with the sweat and tears and blood of dedicated men and women who put it all on the line. Many of these were from Michigan, like these Keweenaw copper miners who risked everything from the loss of their livelihood to outright murder.

As a friend said, as we honor the sacrifice of soldiers on Memorial Day, let us also honor all the hard-working people of today and days gone by who have fought for a better life.

View Wystan’s photo background big and dive into his slideshow for many more great old photos from Michigan!

More Labor Day on Michigan in Pictures.

Salute to Michigan’s Workers on Labor Day

Detroit Industry Mural Diego Rivera

Detroit Industry, photo by Maia C

A very happy Labor Day to everyone and also a salute the generations of hard-working Michiganders whose struggles helped to build the society we have today.

View Maia’s photo background big and see more in her Rivera Court, Detroit Institute of Arts slideshow.

More Labor Day and more about the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Art on Michigan in Pictures.

Labor Day traditions in Detroit

Labor Day 1942

The Detroit News Feature “Holiday for Labor” that provides an excellent look at the traditions of labor and labor day parades in Detroit:

The Detroit Trade Assembly’s labor parades in 1865 formed a part of established parades and gatherings on national holidays, such as the Fourth of July or Washington’s birthday. The unions gathered at Campus Martius, each carrying a banner with a name and symbol of their occupation. Many wore all white with matched hats or aprons. The names of their unions sound a bit quaint today: blacksmiths, iron molders, ship carpenters, caulkers, joiners, coopers, cigar packers, tailors, broommakers, stovemounters, bricklayers, shoemakers, painters, bakers, tinsmiths, cabinet makers, and saddle, trunk and harness makers.

In all about 9,000 people were involved and ended up having parties “gypsy-style” in the Bella Hubbard Grove at Vinewood and 25th Street, with shuttle trips to Belle Isle and Grosse Ile and moonlight excursions to Lake Erie on the ship T.F. Park.

…At that time, almost everyone worked at least 10 hours a day and, for many, 12 hours. Huge strikes for eight-hour work days shook the nation, and independent labor political parties surfaced in community after community. Many of the strikes and parades drew thousands and ended in violence.

…In those years, Labor Day was seen as a welcome holiday for working men and women who labored before the concept of sick days, paid leave, weekends and paid vacations. A Detroit News editorial from Sept. 5, 1927 put it this way:

“In America no man need be apologetic because he works; he needs to explain if he does not. Accordingly, Labor Day is not the peculiar property of some group, but is the holiday which recognizes that this great country of ours with all its glorious achievements, ideals and purposes is a vindication of a whole people’s pride in labor.”

Read on more MUCH more!

This is part of a series of photos taken at the 1942 Labor Day Parade in Detroit by Arthur S. Siegel. Check them all out at the Library of Congress.

Lots more Labor Day on Michigan in Pictures.

Sorting cherries … and making sense of migrant labor in Michigan

Migrant girls working in cherry canning plant Berrien County, photo by John Vachon

February is National Cherry Month and back in the day (July of 1940 to be precise), the cherry sorting machine was any able body that could tell the difference between a good and bad cherry as they sped past.

Agriculture is a vital part of the northern Michigan economy, and the League of Women Voters in Leelanau County has released an interesting study on migrant worker visas. They study contends that although the care for and harvesting of crops is a critical, labor-intensive aspect of our agriculture, Michigan workers aren’t stepping up to fill seasonal agricultural jobs, risking closure or bankruptcy for farmers and processors. The study notes that it’s an issue that’s been with us for years:

Seasonal workers have been essential to the operation of area farms since the transition from subsistence farming in the early 20th century. Agriculture was the principal livelihood for Michigan residents throughout the 1800s, but by the turn of the century, the Industrial Revolution was transforming agriculture from a small, self-sufficient family art to a large, mechanized, scientific industry. The tractor, the telephone, and the automobile revolutionized cultivation, communication, and transportation, and rural isolation was broken. Although farm conditions improved, people left the farms in droves and resettled in the cities. Rural depopulation became so severe during the 1920s that many farmers and growers had to import migrant labor.

The need for migrant labor has ebbed and flowed over the years. World War II was the catalyst for the Bracero Program, which from 1942 to 1964 brought Mexican migrant agricultural workers to the US legally. The program increased Michigan’s reliance on Mexican farm workers for harvest, and when the program ended, many workers continued to work in US agriculture.

Some crops like cherries have become largely mechanized, but apples, wine grapes and many other crops still have to be harvested by hand. Check out Migrant workers and Michigan agriculture on Absolute Michigan for a lot more about a critical issue for our farms and farmers.

You can get this photo background bigilicious and click to view the Michigan cherries gallery at the Library of Congress and you can also have a look at UpNorth Memories cherries slideshow.

The article on photographer John Vachon from the LOC’s American Memory Project says that his first job for the Farm Security Administration held the title “assistant messenger.” Vachon was twenty-one and had no intention of becoming a photographer when he took the position in 1936, but as his responsibilities increased for maintaining the FSA photographic file, his interest in photography grew. A memoir by his son quotes Stryker as telling the file clerk, “When you do the filing, why don’t you look at the pictures.”

Good advice.

Labor Day in Michigan

1942 Detroit Labor Day Parade

Women Workers in the 1942 Detroit Labor Day Parade by Arthur S. Siegel.

Wikipedia says that Labor Day:

…has been celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States since the 1880s. The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.

The entry goes on to say how that has mellowed to more of a day of family rest and recreation (and for political appearances of course).

The Detroit News Rearview Mirror series How Labor won its day by Patricia K. Zacharias does an excellent job of weaving Michigan’s role in the holiday into the broader historical picture and has some great old pictures (be sure to click the button at the top left!).

These pictures were taken at the 1942 Labor Day Parade in Detroit by Arthur S. Siegel. You can click the photos at the right for a larger view too!

1942 Detroit Labor Day Parade, Wings of Victory

1942 Detroit Labor Day Parade, War of Survival

Remembering the Flint Sit-Down Strike on a Labor Day

Flint Sit Down Strike

A movie produced by General Motors in 1936 called Master Hands that Christine Barry posted to her blog provided the impetus for today’s Labor Day holiday post. She dedicates it to her grandfather and it’s likely that many of us in Michigan have some relative who took some part (for or against) in the tumultuous labor struggles. Below are several links about Michigan’s most famous strike, the Flint Sitdown Strike of 1936-37 at GM’s Fisher Body #1 plant in Flint.

According to Remembering the Flint Sit-Down Strike at HistoricalVoices.org (an amazing web site that includes recordings of workers recalling the strike):

Working on the line at General Motors in Flint was a job many men needed desperately in the 1930’s, but it was also tremendously difficult. Terrible working conditions, combined with unfair and devious payroll practices, made the auto plants of Depression-era Flint into ripe locations for union organization.

The union was the United Auto Workers. The UAW pages on the 44-day strike that ended Feb. 11, 1937 say that it  was the most pivitol event the early history of the UAW. The result was the first UAW contract with General Motors and the establishment of the UAW as the sole bargaining representative for GM workers. This account has a lot of details on the political events surrounding the strike.

A couple more excellent resources are Michigan Epic’s multimedia exploration of the Flint strike, The historic 1936-37 Flint auto plant strikes from the Detroit News, Wikipedia’s entry on the Flint Sit-Down Strike and this great slideshow of the monument commemorating the strike in Flint Sitdowners Memorial Park.
Note: The above photo is credited to the Walter P. Reuther Library of Wayne State University. The keen of eye will see that the striking workers are sitting on car seats.

Also check out The Reo Ramblers at the 1937 sit-down strike from Michigan in Pictures & the Archives of Michigan.