la pression extérieure ~ external pressure

If you’re a frequent visitor to my blog, you might have noticed I always link to the Romance Books ‘4’ Us group. I’m one of 20 RB4U authors involved. It’s a great group and fantastic resource that regularly hosts esteemed publishing industry guests from every corner of the publishing world –New York Times Bestseller authors, publishers and industry representatives, cover models, and more have all shared their time on the RB4U. I blog there the 4th of every month and will again next week. Last month my day fell on the 4th of July so I blogged about my family history. Read if you’re interested.

Here’s a family story I didn’t share~

In the days before birth control it was common for a woman to bear children throughout the full length of her reproductive years. Common indeed, for the eldest and youngest to have a 20 year spread between them. That’s how it was with my great-grandmother. When she died from the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918, the eldest children assumed the parental role and looked after the youngest.

Allow me to back up a few decades…After coal1my great-grandfather died my great-grandmother was left with several young children to raise.  I’m not sure where that was. My husband, the genealogist in the family, would know and he just left for work. Suffice to say the family went where the work was and lived in a coal mining town either in Indiana or Kentucky. The older sons became the breadwinners in the family. They went to the mines.

In post-Civil War USA, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the nation was beginning to transition from farm work to factory. Miners and other hard laborers often faced awful working conditions beyond assorted health risks. The 60-hour work week was a standard and low pay situations were often enhance by employers by requiring you to buy everything you needed from the company store. This was a way for the company to keep their money in the family, so to speak, even if those goods could be had cheaper elsewhere. They owed their souls to the company store just like the Tennessee Ernie Ford song ~ Sixteen Tons

The following memory belongs to my great-uncle. He was my grandmother’s brother and my mother’s uncle. My great-uncle was just a boy when his older brothers went to the mines. He lived with us off and on when I was growing up and the man was full of stories. He shared some of his recollections with me.

At this time the family lived in coal company housing and shopped at the coal company stores. He remembered his brothers coming in from work and taking off their clothes on the porch to limit the coal dust coming into the house. Their faces, necks and hands were black with coal grime and sweat. When the shirts came off, their bodies were clean in stark contrast.

wigan mine drawerOne day his older brother Joe came limping into the house and everyone ran to help him sit and get undressed. Earlier that day a full coal car backed over Joe’s foot. Fearful he’d lose his job over his injury, he re-laced his boot as tightly as he could and went back to work. That night, in the light of the oil lamps, Joe took off his boot. The sock was stiff with blood and when he peeled it away from his foot, all four toes stayed inside of it.  The flesh of his foot was crimped and clotted. The next day he wore another brother’s larger boots with padding in the toe and went back to work. He limped for the rest of his life, his balance thrown off because he only had the big toe on one foot.

The coal minors, like so many workers of the Industrial Revolution, faced the daily hazards of their jobs. Baring outright injury like Joe’s, young coal miners became old men quickly with black lung– a common disease at the time that came from inhaling coal dust. It was the same all over the western world. Textile workers often had cotton-induced lung disease. Match makers (not yenta’s) got a condition called phossy jaw from being exposed to phosphorus. The girls who painted those glow-in-the-dark dials on clocks and watches came to be known as radium girls who slowly died from the horrible effects of radium poisoning.

There are many examples of occupational hazards. The modus operandi of many factories and mines of the day was You were injured on the job? You’re fired. There was always someone to replace you. Discarding your ill and injured workers, even though your business was the source of that illness and injury, ensured high work capacity and saved money for the company, not mention it also lined the investors’ pockets. There wasn’t a safety net in society at the time, nothing to save a family once the able-bodied became disabled.

The union

Seeking protection for the common man, American workers began organizing into unions following the Civil War. At this time children worked in factories because women and children typically received lower pay than men. Another way to cut costs at the top.  This was before the Fair Labor Standards Act. Labor movements formed and lobbied for worker’s rights and safer conditions. By the late 1800’s, thousands of workers were organized into unions. Those early union days were almost as hazardous as the working conditions themselves. You could be replaced of course. Worse, breaking strikes often came with cracking skulls.lesliehaymarket

I’m fairly versed in the history of my region so the shenanigans perpetrated by the Wisconsin governor a few years back really steam me. I don’t always agree with today’s organized labor views but I certainly see the need for representation. We need to remember people like my Great-uncle Joe. We need to remember and be thankful for our 8-hour day and 5-day work week. They both came about from workers united in one voice. Here are the details for two historical incidents from my area — the Bay View Tragedy in Wisconsin and the Haymarket Riots in Chicago.

This historical society reenactment does a nice job using their archival info to explain what occurred at Bay View Wisconsin in 1886 when the State Militia fired into the crowd who had gathered on behalf of an 8-hour work day.

You can’t grow up in the city of Chicago and not know about the Haymarket riots. This union effort was larger and more violent. Even the Pinkertons were called in. Newspaper accounts of the time have a bomb going off and policemen shooting into the crowd for a full two minutes. The trial afterward was a farce. Newspapers throughout the country, themselves large companies with the same unfair labor practices, denounced the protestors as anarchists and advocated hanging the responsible persons.

Part 2
Part 3

Where did the idea for today’s post come from? Jimmy Hoffa, president of the Teamsters trade union, disappeared on July 30, 1975. He was declared legally dead July 30, 1983.


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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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2 Responses to la pression extérieure ~ external pressure

  1. treknray says:

    My mother’s oldest brother was killed by a faulty electrical cable in a mine in North Dakota. My Brother Don’s wife’s first husband died in a mining accident. She got several hundred thousand dollars out of the accident. Mom’s family got nothing for Uncle August as the accident took place during or before the depression, I am not sure, but I know he died years before I was born in 1944.

    Your Haymarket Riots reminded me of Coxey’s Army seeking help for the unemployed in a depression several years after the Civil War. Also there was a march on Washington by WWI veterans in the 1920s that was broken up by non other than Douglas McCarthy. He drove the veterans and their wives and children out of the city.

    There was no regulation of food or slaughterhouse/meat packing plant workers health or safety until Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle about the Chicago Stockyards. The expose of working conditions meant nothing to the rich industrialists until they read in excerpts in the papers that if a worker or a worker’s body parts fell into a vat that it would be included in the processing of corned beef. Safety and sanitation was improved, but it did nothing for paychecks.

    • The stockyards were nasty. In the 1960’s you could smell it miles away. The river actually bubbled with rotting sewage. That’s prime real estate now –The Back of the Yards.

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