Happy Labor Day! Today I’ve been thinking about the history of labor struggles in this country.
When I first started studying labor history, I was amazed by how hard people in the past had to fight to gain workers’ rights that are taken for granted today. History taught in schools mostly centers around heroification — focusing on well-known figures and presenting them as gallantly flawless while fully crediting them with any progressive changes made in society during their time of active social participation.Actual labor movement history is rarely discussed; neither is the history of “radical” social justice movements for that matter.
Thinking about this reminded me of something I read, in of all things, a psychology textbook. The book, Introduction to Psychology, is by James Kalat, who is a well-known college textbook author and professor of psychology. Mr. Kalat is by no means a liberal or radical. In reading this book it seems if anything he’s “center-right” on social issues. Though in general, he seems to write in an unbiased manner.
Kalat’s Intro to Psychology is a huge, 650-page college textbook. In it he only mentions a “radical” leftist political movement once. Kalat does so in the chapter on Social Psychology, in a section on minority group influence.
As an example of the powerful influence a minority group can have, he cites the platform of the United States Socialist Party in 1900 and lists the eventual fate of their proposals. Here’s a copy of the table he presents:
The Political Platform of the U.S. Socialist Party, 1900
Proposal Eventual Fate of
Women’s right to vote Established by 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;ratified in 1920
Old-age pensions Included in the Social Security Act of 1935
Unemployment insurance Included in the Social Security Act of 1935 and in the Medicare Act of 1965
Increased wages, First minimum-wage law passed in including minimum wage 1938, periodically updated since then
Reduction of work hours Maximum 40-hour workweek (with
exceptions) established by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938
Public ownership of electric, gas and Utilities not owned by government but other utilities and of the means of heavily regulated by Federal and State transportation and communication government
since the 1930s
Initiative, referendum and recall Adopted by most State governments
(mechanisms for private citizens to
push for changes in legislation and
for removal of elected officials)
Professor Kalat mentions that the Socialist Party of the U.S. ran candidates for elected office from 1900 through the 1950s. No Socialist candidate was ever elected Governor or Senator and only a few were elected to the House of Representatives.
He states that the party eventually dwindled and they stopped electing candidates not because they had failed, but because they had “already accomplished most of their goals.” This assertion as to why the party diminished is highly debatable and the above mentioned “goals” that were achieved were fought for by a countless number of other groups, but nevertheless, the overall point that minority groups have had — and can have — powerful social influence is very valid.
Today, Labor Day, is a good day to remember that and to call to mind the fact that grassroots organizing has brought about every major positive, progressive social change, including workers’ rights. Yes, certain Senators, Governors and others in positions of government office have helped bring about change, but history shows that long before they put forth progressive legislation, everyday people were fighting for that change.
With that thought in mind, I’ll sign off by sending all of my people out there involved in the Social Justice Movement an embrace of Strength and Perseverance and warm vibes of Love and Solidarity!!