Monday, August 30, 2010

Abuses of Workers Past...

“We learned how companies cared for and valued their mules more than their workers. How 6 year olds sat alone in the dark with just candles for light. We learned what 16 tons meant. We learned that a family had 48 hours to get out of their home or provide a new worker if someone died. All this, while the coal owners lived in extreme luxury and proclaimed themselves great Christians.” (One American’s account of a trip through America’s mining country)

There’s an odd and very flawed presumption at work that surmises that other workers (perhaps government workers?) were treated better at the time?

Not a chance.

As late as 1917 (at a time after the last company stores had closed – “the last of the mining company’s company stores ceased to exist sometime in the earlier 1900′s”) New York City’s Fire Dept (the FDNY) had its workers on 151-hour weeks! That's right, seven 21-hour days every week!

The Captain of a firehouse, much like his men, was a veritable serf – he and his family were required to live in the firehouse, which actually made it easier for him to see his family, as the other firefighters had just 3 hours per day off...the annual salary at the time was $1500/year and it cost more to live in New York then, as it still does today. $2000/year was then considered a “livable wage” for New York City. (SOURCE: The 2010 UFA Delegates Education Seminar Program Guide)

Human nature is flawed...but ain’t it grand? Nobody promised any of us that “life would be fair,” at least none that I know. Moreover, we all seem to define “fair” differently, according to our own perceived interests.

So governments abused their workers even worse than the private sector miners abused theirs?

Apparently so.

It’s important to keep such things in the proper context.

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