In this third week, we have another group honoree who I will use as a standard by which to judge new school racists’ future acts, statements, and character to see if I should reject my new school racist opinion of them: Lowell Mill Girls. This historical group consists of the female workers who went to work for the textile corporate mills in Lowell, Massachusetts during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. These workers were all predominantly from farm economies. By 1840 when the start of America’s Industrial Revolution was gaining full steam, the Lowell textile mills employed approximately 8,000 women making up about 75% of the workforce. These women came to these mills freely as a way out of the drudgery of life on the farm that was never as romantic or idyllic, at least not for the average peasant farmer, as many modern fictions make it appear to have been. They came not only to obtain supplementary income for their family back on the farm but also to gain economic independence as women earning their own salaries and for the cultural and educational opportunities offered by life in the big city.
Initially, factory life with the economic, cultural, and educational independence it granted these women gave them high expectations for a better life, and they saw it as a very good opportunity. The women were hired through employment contracts of one year that could be renewed. The average female worker stayed about four years. During the height of these expectations, there were often found grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and their young children as young as 10 years old working in the mills together. The women usually lived in dormitories provided by the mills or in area boarding houses and thus quickly developed social bonds regardless of their life backgrounds. As should be expected of human nature and reality, gradually these expectations deteriorated along with the deteriorating factory conditions. The human mind is capable of the concept of infinity and the will to power that is usually never satisfied solely by material conditions, regardless of how well they may be at any given time. All social and even economic improvement is relative. To be a living human requires that there is and always should be hope for a better life either for oneself or for others.
When the conditions in the factories deteriorated; working requirements of 60 hour weeks or longer became the norm; the economy went through booms, recessions, and depressions resulting in the factories cutting wages and income support; and the working conditions got more dangerous, by 1845 the women formed the first union of working women in the United States called the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association and published their own newspaper called The Voice of Industry in which workers published essays, reports, and critiques of the Industrial Revolution and their own personal conditions. At present, unless you are very familiar with history, it is hard to appreciate the courage of such acts. As indicated by my prior blog on the Hay Market Square Riots, in the 19th century organized union activities could and often were considered an illegal conspiracy subject to both criminal and tort violations.
Not only did they organize unions and start protests and strikes but they were successful protests and strikes. These early successes gave hope to other union organizers and eventually led to the golden age of union organizing from 1881 to 1905 in which historians have documented approximately 37,000 strikes by workers against their working conditions. This golden age was gradually destroyed by the majesty of the law through numerous judicial rulings and legislative acts along with their judicial interpretation varying from the Norris LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act of 1932 to the Taft Hartley Act of 1947. That last Act began the end of the second boom in union organization during World War II and post-World War II that was in large part responsible for making sure that the wartime profits of the powers-that-be trickled down to all workers. By the 1980’s, the golden age of unions was dead and the power of unions finally ended with the Reagan administration and its forced breakup of the PATCO strike of 1981. Since then, except for government workers — the employees who are in the least need of any type of unions — unions in the United States are not only seen as a remnant from the past but even among workers the powers have been able to indoctrinate into them and market the idea that unions should be archaic remnants of the past and are evils to be avoided. True, unions were greedy power hungry organizations, but the fact is ignored that they had to be to survive and win against the greedy power hungry corporations they were fighting who had the law on their side.
As I wrote earlier, historically the only essential difference between chattel slavery and wage slavery was the wage slaves’ ability to maintain social and cultural relationships that allowed for the formation of rebellions against the powers-that-be. Materially, the chattel slave usually had a better life but not spiritually or socially. The material success of modern Technological Society has taken this power away from the modern world of wage slaves. Workers are now wage slaves with access to all the material necessities of life but none of the social bonds once necessary to gain material necessities in life. With the leisure, marketing, and communications power provided by modern technological success, the powers-that-be are now free to keep us fighting among ourselves by fake struggles such as new school racism.
Most present workers in relative, qualitative terms are probably no better off than the Lowell Mill Girls: many still work 60 – 70 hours a week to survive; as a result of a lifetime of work, 80% of America’s workers will wind up owning about 10% of the economic wealth they create; 40% of the wealth produced by their lifetime of work will be owned by the richest 1%. Problem is that instead of working 60-70 hours a week in a noisy, smelly, polluted factory, most workers spend their time in heated, air-conditioned spaces, with whatever hope they have for the future routinely negated by the constant fear of losing the present while having no social or cultural connection to any other worker in the same bind and thus having no social or cultural option to rebel against it — only the existentialist rebellion allowed to any individual who can overcome the fear of losing whatever they have. O’Brien’s Room 101 from Orwell’s 1984 has come to life but it is no longer a room with a rat cage but a sterile, pleasantly decorated, warm, friendly room with surround sound of bullshit negating conscious, complex tragedy and thought in the classical sense, to replace it with fear, hatred, and the joy or pain of either triumph or self-abasement loss in nonsense battles over bull-shit but no dignity of deep or complex sorrow nor of clear rational thought.
Oh well, beats working 60-70 hours a week in a noisy, smelly, polluted factory. In case you may disagree and are starting to look for options that I do not see, I leave you with the following quote by an anonymous author known as “operative” in the Factory Tracts pamphlets published by the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association:
When you sell your product, you retain your person. But when you sell your labour, you sell yourself, losing the rights of free men and becoming vassals of mammoth establishments of a monied aristocracy that threatens annihilation to anyone who questions their right to enslave and oppress.
Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism.
Nice speech. I would be happy for now if the aristocracy and private despots would just stop bombarding me and messing up my watching of the few NFL games I watch with their new school racism and claim of entitlement to their status as aristocracy and private despots because some of them are black.