Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You're Damned Right I'm Union

An exerpt from Mary Stays After School or--What This Union's About, a piece published in 1939 by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. They've since gone on to be a part of UNITE HERE!, a conglamoration with the hotel and restaurant workers unions. For more stories like this, I can't recommend enough the excellent Tales for Little Rebels by Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel, which is a fascinating look back at labor's heyday.

"Maybe they are right," her father continued. "Yes, it would be a wonderful thing to have a union of the clothing workers...but must the women and the children pay for it? Must you go without enough food? Not have a decent dress and stockings to put on? When I come home at night, I am afraid to look my own daughter in the face because there is so much pain in it."

"I don't like to hear you talk like that," Mary's mother said, and Mary could not believe it was her mother's voice, it was so clear and strong. "You are their leader. They depend on you. You knew that all this would happen before you began this fight for the union. But you thought, and they all thought, that it was worth making almost any sacrifice for a chance to live with a little security, a little hope in this world. And you shouldn't change your mind now because the women and children are suffering. I am not different from the other women, and Mary is not different from the other children. They all can stand it and so can we. Are we suffering more than before the strike? I had the same worries then that I have now....always trying to make ends meet on your earnings....trying to make a home that we could live in with a little decency.....that Mary could play in. Now at least we have something better to look forward to. And if Mary can have all the things that the other girls have, she will be happy again. No, John, if we lose the strike then we can go back to the old days. But I wouldn't have you go back otherwise.
Unionism has changed, and what unions should do has changed. But I think at the end of the day it always, always will boil down to getting a little security and a little hope for my members, and that's not a bad thing for anyone to accomplish in this life.

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