Today in Labor History July 27, 2020

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones with children and adults beginning their “Children’s Crusade”

William Sylvis (1828-1869), founder of the Iron Molders’ International Union and head of the Nation Labor Union, the first such organization in US history, died on this date. – 1869

William Sylvis dies, Mother Jones gives her famous 'The Wail of the Children' speech during the March of the Mill Children, and United Mine Workers organizer Ginger Goodwin died. Click To Tweet

Mother Jones gave her famous “The Wail of the Children” speech during the “March of the Mill Children.” The march began on July 7 in Philadelphia and ended at Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. They were demanding a 55 hour work week for children. – 1903

“After a long and weary march, with more miles to travel, we are on our way to see President Roosevelt at Oyster Bay. We will ask him to recommend the passage of a bill by congress to protect children against the greed of the manufacturer. We want him to hear the wail of the children, who never have a chance to go to school, but work from ten to eleven hours a day in the textile mills of Philadelphia, weaving the carpets that he and you walk on, and the curtains and clothes of the people.

Fifty years ago there was a cry against slavery and the men of the North gave up their lives to stop the selling of black children on the block. To-day the white child is sold for $2 a week, and even by his parents to the manufacturers.

Fifty years ago the black babies were sold C. O. D. To-day the white baby is sold to the manufacturer on the installment plan. He might die at his tasks and the manufacturer with the automobile and the yacht and the daughter who talks French to a poodle dog, as you can see any day at Twenty-third Street and Broadway when they roll by, could not afford to pay $2 a week for the child that might die, except on the present installment plan. What the President can do is to recommend a measure and send a message to Congress which will break the chains of the white children slaves.

He endorsed a bill for the expenditure of $45,000 to fill the stomach of a Prince who went gallivanting about the country. We will ask in the name of the aching hearts of these little ones that they be emancipated. I will tell the President that I saw men in Madison Square last night sleeping on the benches, and that the country can have no greatness while one unfortunate lies out at night without a bed to sleep on. I will tell him that the prosperity he boasts of is the prosperity of the rich wrung from the poor.

In Georgia where children work day and night in the cotton mills, they have just passed a bill to protect song birds. What about the little children from whom all song is gone?

The trouble is that the fellers in Washington don’t care. I saw them last winter pass three railroad bills in one hour, but when labor cries for aid for the little ones they turn their backs and will not listen to her. I asked a man in prison once how he happened to get there. He had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him that if he had stolen a railroad he could be a United States Senator. One hour of justice is worth an age of praying.

You are told that every American born male citizen has a chance of being President. I tell you that the hungry man without a bed in the park would sell his chance for a good square meal, and these little toilers, deformed, dwarfed in body, soul, and morality, with nothing but toil before them and no chance for schooling, don’t even have the dream that they might someday have a chance at the Presidential chair.

You see those monkeys in the cages. They are trying to teach them to talk. The monkeys are too wise, for they fear that then the manufacturers might buy them for slaves in their factories. In 1800 the workingmen had the advantage in percentage of the country’s wealth. To-day statistics at Washington show that with billions of wealth, the wage earners’ share is but 10 per cent. We are going to tell the President of these things. Tomorrow we meet in Madison Square and Thursday we start for Oyster Bay.”

United Mine Workers organizer Ginger Goodwin died. Goodwin was a migrant coal miner who found work in the Cumberland mines, arriving on Vancouver Island in late 1910. Goodwin was unhappy with the working conditions and management’s disregard of labor. Wanting change, Goodwin became an advocate for workers’ rights, organizing and promoting trade unions. Goodwin increased in stature to become a highly prominent leader in the labor movement but died suddenly under controversial circumstances that have not been settled to this day. It is widely believed that Goodwin was murdered in an attempt to stifle collective bargaining. His death inspired the 1918 Vancouver general strike on August 2, 1918, Canada’s first General Strike. – 1918

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