Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 North American Labor History Conference

If it is fall (and by all weather indications here in the Copper Country it is--down to 34 F tonight) it is time for the North American Labor History Conference at Wayne State University.

A link to the 2012 North American Labor History Conference web site: http://nalhc.wayne.edu/ 

I (Gary) presented at the conference last year on extra-legal direct action and met a bunch of great folks--academics and activists alike--it was a great experience. Also stayed in a wonderful union hotel in downtown Detroit.

Again, this year the Copper Country is represented at the conference by historian Dr. Larry Lankton of Michigan Technological University's Social Sciences department. Larry, who has been doing Copper Country history for over two decades, is providing comments on a documentary related to a Woody Guthrie song about the Italian Hall tragedy, 1913 Massacre by Ken Ross and Louis V. Galdieri. The documentary is being shown Thursday, October 18, at 6 pm.

(Larry is also giving a presentation on workers' compensation in the "Michigan State Bar Sessions" of the Wayne State University Law School Auditorium on Friday, October 19, at 9 am on the "View Above the Bridge and Below the Ground.")

The film and Larry's commentary are being sponsored by "The Workers Compensation Section of the Michigan Bar and Wayne State University Law School, in celebration of 100 years workers' compensation in Michigan."

A link to the 1913 Massacre documentary page: http://1913massacre.com/

Here, a link to the trailer on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/30913221

The documentary looks at public memory of the Italian Hall and 1913-14 Strike in Calumet using Woody Guthrie's lesser-known, but powerful ballad, "1913 Massacre." Guthrie penned and then sang the song after reading Ella Reeve "Mother" Bloor's account of the Italian Hall tragedy in her autobiography We Are Many, which was published in 1940. Guthrie then hit the airwaves, concert halls, and outdoor venues with the song to bolster unionization efforts during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, which was overall, and in a general sense, sympathetic to organized labor.

Ken and Louis and 1913 Massacre will also be appearing at the Calumet Theater this fall, October 5 and 6 for a showing of their film, and will be in the Copper Country fall of 2013 for the Writing Across the Peninsula Conference sponsored by Michigan Tech's Humanities Department.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fort Wilkins Presentation

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Image of the parade grounds and officers' quarters at Fort Wilkins, a restored 19th century frontier fort in Copper Harbor, Michigan, on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

I (Gary) had an opportunity to round out the Summer 2012 Evening Programs at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor a couple of weeks ago. Occurring August, 24, 2012, the talk went well and was attended by around 45 people from all over Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

I've been giving talks at Fort Wilkins for about five years and really enjoy the setting and people. I started giving talks on my experiences with training and racing Alaskan husky sled dogs, moved to talking about Finnish American labor history, and now presented on "The 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike: New Perspectives."

I unveiled some of the new material we have come across in our research for the upcoming book, and the response was very good...many interesting and challenging questions. Authors can learn so much from these talks just by listening to and thinking about audience questions. I'm continually impressed by the questions I get and always try to think if I've addressed these ideas in the book and if not how I might be able to when given the chance to edit the book.

Also met a couple of union folks in the audience. One gentleman was a UAW worker from downstate Michigan and another was a public school teacher from Wisconsin. Both had interesting stories and we talked about everything from the 1937 Sit-down Strike to the March on Madison of recent history. One conclusion I came to after talking with these men and studying labor history for years is that unions are under constant attack. Union folks always have to be vigilant because powerful lobbyists, politicians, and corporations are eternally looking to peel back some of the hard fought rights workers have won in the valiant working class struggles of the past.

This is perhaps one of the greatest lessons from our book on the 1913-14 Strike; people fought hard for workers' rights and we should honor and remember their sacrifices by continuing the fight. We honor the struggle of Copper Country workers by working for and being vigilant toward the rights they marched, sang, and sadly, in some instances, died for.

It is always an honor to be at Fort Wilkins and I learn and enjoy my time presenting there.

Fort Wilkins State Park is a real jewel among the Michigan State Parks system. There are (at various times) live historical interpreters, outdoor recreation opportunities, a lighthouse tour, some excellent exhibits, and in the winter some great cross-country ski trails. Please see the link for more information:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Labor Day 1912: 100 Years Ago Today

Like this parade, which possibly occurred during Labor Day festivities in Hancock, Michigan, circa 1900, Labor Day at the turn of the century was about getting out and showing solidarity with your fellow workers. Membership in a union, such as the International Molders Union members above, often included uniforms so members could identify with other union brothers and sisters. Image courtesy of Michigan Technological University's Copper Country Historical Collections.

One hundred years ago today, thousands of working-class men, women, and children took to the streets of Hancock, Houghton, and Ontonagon to celebrate Labor Day.  Celebrated annually in cities and towns throughout the United States, Labor Day provided workers and their families with a day away from the workplace and the boss.  These parades provided unionists with their best opportunity to display their commitment to their unions, to unionism in general, as well as a pride in their crafts. Unionists sometimes wore identical uniforms or built floats that signaled their membership in a particular trade, or carried banners that proclaimed their union membership. 

The celebrations also provided workers with a chance to demonstrate their class solidarity by taking to the streets, holding mass parade, hearing pro-labor speeches, and enjoying picnics and games with their fellow workers.

Reporting on the September 2, 1912, Labor Day festivities, the Daily Mining Gazette wrote:

"Labor organizations of the Copper Country put forth their marching foot yesterday in observing Labor Day. In Hancock as well as in other cities throughout the country armies of men, the brawn of the great army of industrial toilers, observed it.  The significance of the movement, its benefits, its dangers, and its mission are questions peculiarly appropriate to yesterday and it required only one's presence at the grove to hear the speakers of the day explain in detail the meeting of Labor Day to learn what it represented. . . .  

Attendance Record Broken.  
The grove yesterday afternoon was the mecca for hundreds of copper country folk who congregated to help make the celebration a success.  There was music for dancing by the Quincy band, refreshments were served on the grounds, and an athletic program pulled off.  Yesterday's celebration may truly be said to have been the most successful in the history of organized labor in the Copper Country."