Tag Archives: labor history

Several socialist groups came together on April 29, 2018, in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas to celebrate MayDay. They were kind enough to allow the oldest person in attendance to remind them of the long workers’ tradition by leading singing of “The International.”

Another Mayday celebration, by another group of socialists, takes place at Kidd Springs Park at 5:30PM on May 1st. One cannot help but observe that the progressive movement, even the activists who supposedly have the highest levels of consciousness, continues to be disunited. It’s like Will Rogers used to say about the weather: “Everybody talks about unity, but nobody does anything about it!” I believe the trend, though, is positive.

The trend toward celebrating the International Workers Day is a very positive sign. I can remember reserving that very same Lake Cliff Park pavilion May 1, 1984, and doing all the preparations and publicizing myself. Then I sat there, alone, for two hours hoping somebody would come, but they didn’t! This year, we have two of them. The first one had about 40 people, and I imagine the second will be at least as big.

I’ll be doing a talk about “MayDay Then and Now” at Roma’s Pizza, 7402 Greenville Avenue, beginning at 6 pm on Saturday, May 5th. I’d like to count that as a third MayDay celebration. Every year, I publicize MayDay on my radio show.

MayDay Has a History

The workers’ movement, of course, goes back at least to Moses and the slaves of Egypt, and workers probably celebrated the vernal equinox around MayDay long before they had calendars. But the year 1886 marks the close association of the workers’ movement with May 1.

That year, the word went out from Chicago for a worldwide general strike to demand the 8-hour day. There were protests everywhere. Strikers were killed in Chicago. A police riot erupted on May 4th during another rally in Haymarket square. Authorities came down hard on the Chicago movement and, in 1887, hanged four of the main leaders. Since then, the world remembers “Chicago, 1886” on May 1st.

The repression from the bosses combined with the opportunism of many American labor leaders separated the Americans from the International Workers Day; consequently there have been few celebrations here until recently.

Was Labor Stronger Before?

Almost any reading of labor history will bring out the romantic in us. We long for the great general strike of 1874, or the worldwide struggle of 1886, or the organizing frenzy of 1935-1947. In 1980, when the American government decisively teamed up with the bosses to suppress the labor movement, unions began a numerical free fall that continues today. We had 35% of the workforce organized into unions, and we have only 11% now. People dream about the good old days.

No, We’re Stronger Now!

But despite the decline in union numbers, American labor is actually stronger today than ever. Part of the reason is productivity, but most of it is education. One worker today is four times as productive as those who organized in 1935-47. If one worker walks off the job today, it’s like four workers striking in the old days.

We have more unity than ever. In 1935-47, remember that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations were two separate and competing organizations. Remember also that racism and other kinds of chauvinism were far more divisive in the “old days” than they are today. The AFL-CIO didn’t even try to organize the millions of undocumented workers before 1999 — they joined the government in calling for deportation!

Today, the AFL-CIO bends over backward to work with church, civil rights, and community organizations. In 1987, unions were so totally isolated that five of the more progressive ones had to create a separate organization, Jobs with Justice, to try to build solidarity outside the official labor movement. Today, virtually all unions have gone past their initial hostility and regularly work with Jobs with Justice and other solidarity efforts.

In the old days, many workers were barely literate. Today, we command more information than they could have imagined. With our phones and computers, workers have the ability to function as almost a single worldwide unit. That’s power! We’re only at the first stages of using it, but today we have the power!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events’ tab. If you are interested in what I really think, look at my personal web site.











The West Virginia teachers strike of 2018 was one of the most dramatically successful labor events of recent times. After striking for 9 days, they won a freeze on new health care costs and a 5% general wage increase for themselves and for all state workers! In addition, it was basically a wildcat strike, which means that it was not officially called by any of the three major unions involved and, thus, did not have their official backing. Official backing usually means strike benefits such as a small weekly stipend and, sometimes, health care for the duration of the strike. They didn’t have that.


On March 10, I had an organizer from one of the West Virginia support groups on KNON radio. Steven Noble Smith said that the preparations had begun last December. Here is how he described the overall characteristic of the strike: “It was rooted and grounded deeply in the everyday pain of working people!”

Smith’s group was one of several that joined in backing the school employees as their movement grew. “Everybody was welcome in this movement,” he told the KNON audience. At least one of the supporting organizations was political, the Working Families Party. Others had been inspired, perhaps, by the Bernie Sanders movement, or perhaps by their disgust with the current government.

One of the contributions of Smith’s group was raising funds for some of the workers who were striking without any remuneration. The money raised in a short period, over $300,000, was impressive. I also found out from Smith some of the other elements of a successful labor action such as training, regular public action, social media, and interacting with commercial newspersons. But what, I asked him pointedly, was the key?

Smith explained, “What matters… is mass action!” Beginning last December, school employees had been holding public actions. The group planning and the individual contributions, Smith said, were very innovative. Many of the actions took place in the state capitol.

Responses Not So Hot

The total victory in West Virginia was announced around March 6, which was primary election day here in Texas. There was news coverage, especially from national sources, but it was dwarfed by local election news. That’s not the worst of it.

I also went around and asked some of my union friends about their responses to West Virginia. They were pleased and a little bit awed. But any suggestion of seeing what we could do here at home brought exactly the response I had been dreading. “I wish my own union had members like West Virginia!”

It’s not just lately, I’ve been hearing this from union leaders for forty years! “Our members are chicken,” “Our members are Republicans,” “Our members would never take action,” etc etc etc. Excuses!

My Big Gripe

I can understand why unions seldom go on strike. Nobody wants to. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of risk involved. The government pretends to be neutral, but it isn’t. Even easier forms of concerted action such as boycotts, petitioning campaigns, and slowdowns are perilous for unions and for the individuals involved. That’s not my complaint.

My complaint is that unions and, especially, union staffers, don’t try. Undoubtedly, the West Virginia school employees were not ready to strike last December. It took three months for them to get ready, and that three months of preparation paid off for them in March.

That’s what we ought to be learning from West Virginia — that preparations for concerted action should under way. Otherwise, how do we expect to survive the present onslaught?

-Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3FM every Saturday from 9 AM to 10AM. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site

Always lose? “Oh surely not,” you assure me. “Just look at all of labor’s victories. Why, there was he sit-in in Flint Michigan. There was the drive to organize steel, and what about the 8-hour day movement?” you say.


And yet I say we always lose, and I ask “Why?”

When we talk about our losses, we usually ask what we did wrong. We have our theories like:

The Knights of Labor, the most successful organizing effort of the 19th century, failed because its Master Workman, Terence Powderly, was too timid, too vain, and too afraid to admit it when he was wrong.

The Industrial Workers of the World failed, according to one theory, because they tried to be a revolutionary organization and an ordinary trade union both at the same time, and they couldn’t decide which.

The American Federation of Labor failed because it was too conservative and the Congress of Industrial Organizations failed because it was too brash.

In the political arena, Hillary Clinton failed because she was too backward and Bernie Sanders failed because he was too advanced. Eugene Victor Debs was too nice and Joseph Stalin wasn’t nice enough. If the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela comes crashing down tomorrow, we’ll think of some reason to blame them for it. We always blame our own side and discourage ourselves unnecessarily and incorrectly.

We didn’t just lose, we were beaten

The point is, our losses aren’t our fault. We may have played the game very well. The other side just played better. On labor issues, the other side is the employers. They’re very good at defeating working people. They have a lot of resources. More importantly, for purposes of this discussion, they always know that there are two irreconcilable sides to any war and they know which side they are on.

Oftentimes, we don’t. When we lose, and we always lose because we never settle things for the long term, we blame ourselves. That’s just wrong.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on 89.3 FM every Saturday at 9AM

Botkin, Jane Little, Frank Little and the IWW. The Blood that Stained an American Family. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2017


The author will speak in Butte, Montana, on August 1

A giant hole in American labor history has been filled.

Frank Little’s Great Grand Niece has explained every known detail of the great union organizer’s life. 125 pages of careful notations testify to her ability as an historian of the first rank, but she also reveals family records hidden for a century. She has written not only the best biography of Frank Little possible, but she also put the events of his life and times in context so that a reader can, from this one book, draw the important lessons of the missing chapters, 1905-1919, of American history.

Why Frank Little and His Times Matter

Frank Little was a top organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, the Wobblies, the One Big Union, the OBU. At the time he was lynched, one hundred years ago on August 1, he was Chairman of the General Executive Board. Not all details are known, but his legacy probably includes:

1. Implementation of passive resistance tactics decades before Gandhi or MLK
2. Implementation of organizing itinerant farm workers decades before Cesar Chavez
3. Implementation of Industrial Organizing (as opposed to craft organizing) decades before the CIO
4. Champion of the argument that workers should stay out of World War I
If Frank Little had survived his 39th year, and if his ideas had survived, civil rights would have been greatly advanced. Labor would have put aside all arguments against minorities and immigrants long ago. Itinerant farm workers would have been organized far earlier. Divisions in the ranks of organized labor would have melted away. Thousands of soldiers’ lives would have been saved and American workers would have had a far better understanding of capitalism, imperialism, and socialism than they do now or have ever had. This last point is based on Frank Little’s adamant opposition to World War I. He was one of the two most outspoken labor leaders in the world on this point. The other one was V.I. Lenin in Russia.
In our spare time, my wife and I have tried to collect what little we could find out about Frank Little. I posted it years ago at
The new book shows that I was wrong on several small details, but my only general mistake was to have underestimated the man and his importance.

Why Didn’t We Already Know All This?

Within a month of Frank Little’s lynching at the hands of the copper bosses of Montana, The United States government launched the fiercest attack against the working class in our history. Free speech, one of Frank Little’s greatest accomplishments, was trampled. Unionists were hunted down and deported or arrested and tortured. Heavy jail sentences were laid on any of the hundreds railroaded for having “conspired with Frank H. Little” to undermine war production.

Union halls were raided and all records were confiscated. History, especially any history associated with Frank Little, was wiped clean. Fear was so great that even Frank Little’s relatives dared not remember him. Fear was so great that the silence lasted almost 100 years, until now.

–Gene Lantz

You can still find me every Saturday at 9AM Central Time on

I write on and



Progressives need a program, guidelines, to go forward. One element needed is acknowledgement of history, not only all the bad things that have happened and all the bad situations we face today, but also the positive developments.

tenayucca1938We can build on the good things that happened and are happening. There are lots of them. Just yesterday’s Dallas newspaper, for example, included an article announcing that the Texas African American History Memorial had gone up on the Texas Capitol grounds.

Many of us, especially me, have been complaining for decades about the Confederate monuments in and around the Capitol. Yesterday’s new monument is a partial response and a very positive development.

Also in yesterday’s paper, and again in today’s, the Texas Railroad Commission is taken to task for being a superficial front for the oil industry. They’ve been denying that the recent upsurge in earthquakes are associated with oil industry shenanigans. It’s great to see somebody point out corruption, but it’s even better to see a major newspaper that has some regard for the truth!

Why So Much Negativity?

Most of the “Programs For Action” I’ve seen from individuals and organizations are all negative. It’s certainly fair to point out that we are facing the possibility of fascism in America and that chauvinism has leaped forward. It’s honest to complain about poverty levels and inequality and unfairness. But it’s not a good way to approach writing a useful program of action if it doesn’t acknowledge the progress we’ve made since our days of savagery and slavery.

Labor Is Improving

The recent changes in the American labor movement shouldn’t be ignored. Since 1995, the top leaders of the AFL-CIO have been adjusting their overall program to suit the demands that used to be made only by progressive fringe groups. A good example is Jobs with Justice, which started out in 1987 as virtually an outlaw organization with support from only 5 big unions. Today, it works hand-in-hand with all labor leaders. I wrote a short history of the North Texas Chapter.

Capitalism Was A Step Forward!

In the longer sense, thinking people and organizations are rightfully down on capitalism. It’s terrible in the way it creates poverty, divides people, starts wars, lies, cheats, steals, and generally oppresses us. But it’s completely wrong to ignore its historical value. Capitalism freed the slaves! It organized the workers! It’s productive power was far superior to any of the other economic systems that it replaced. One might even argue that capitalism has been more productive, even, than any of the attempts at planned economy so far!

A Good Program Acknowledges the Good

I’m 100% in favor of a program for progressive change and I intend to continue writing about it. Certainly such a program should point out the many shortcomings of today’s society and the need for decisive action. But our history and our present situation aren’t all bad. There’s a lot of progress to build on!

–Gene Lantz

Listen to “Workers Beat” at 9 CST every Saturday morning on 89.3FM and

If you want to know what I really think, look at my life’s lessons site

Everybody should read “Runaway Inequality” by Les Leopold. Don’t wait for somebody from the Communications Workers of America to invite you to one of their classes on it.


Some of the best stuff is in the beginning. The forward is by Chris Shelton, President of the CWA. The middle parts of the book are mostly statistics about how inequality rose after America selected a new business friendly government policy in 1980. The other really great stuff is near the end

I particularly like Chapter 22: “When unions decline, inequality soars and we all lose.” On page 288 Leopold says, “Wealth inequality and unionization levels are intertwined.” You probably knew that but it’s good to see it in print.

What happened?

Then he goes into the reasons for the great union decline from its heady power of 1946, when Americans won strikes more than ever before or since. Leopold apparently doesn’t have the nerve to say it outright, but he lists, in a dispassionate way, several “theories” about how union leadership could have done better. I’ll shorten them and make them more blunt:

  • The decline started in 1947 when unions cooperated with the anti-communist witch hunt and expelled some of their best leaders.
  • Unions shouldn’t have worked closely with the CIA
  • The merger of the AFL and the CIO didn’t work out for the members
  • Unions shouldn’t have supported the War in Vietnam
  • Unions became bureaucratic and undemocratic
  • All unions haven’t learned community organizing techniques
  • Unions aren’t linking up with unions in other countries

Even though Leopold didn’t really commit to it, I thought it was a pretty good list. It probably should have included something about how unions largely ignored and still ignore the civil rights movement, but it’s still a pretty good list.

Right after the list, the author gives the underlying reason for all the problems: “Unions and the rest of us are on the losing side of a gigantic class war — a war that we have to recognize, discuss and address if unions are to grow again.”

In other words, we can list the things union leaders did wrong all we want, but the underlying reason for the decline was aggressive anti-worker policies of the boss class. Even if we’d had the best leadership in the world 1947-1995, it would have been very very hard to withstand the combination of government/boss aggression and the post war “good time” prosperity that allowed opportunist labor leaders to get pretty good contracts for their members — while slowly sinking into isolation from everybody else.

By 1979, unionized American workers were the envy of the world, even though our numbers were dwindling fast. In 1980, the party was over. I don’t think many union leaders figured it out, and some of them still haven’t. They still expect the bosses to act “reasonably.”

The essence of the problem

What it boils down to is this: From 1947 to 1995, the bosses were able to isolate the organized sector of the American working class from the rest of us. I picked this up from an earlier book by a prof in California named Lipschitz, “Rainbow at Midnight,” and from talking to people who lived through it. The new book, with CWA backing, will force unionists to look at the problem and see what we did wrong. Even if it did nothing else, the book would be worth the $20.

But Les Leopold actually does a lot more in “Runaway Inequality.” He makes serious suggestions as to how we can turn the situation around and return to the kind of militant union progressivism that succeeded for the CIO 1935-1947. The progressive leadership of the AFL-CIO, 1995 to present, can and probably will implement these ideas.

I can’t wait!

–Gene Lantz

Click here for more of these ideas



It’s June 25th, the 81st anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act. We can thank President Roosevelt and Labor Secretary Perkins for this greatest accomplishment of America’s centuries-long fight for shorter working hours.


Four Chicago leaders of the 8-hour day were hanged in 1887

A number of Americans were killed when we led the worldwide fight for the 8-hour day in 1886. The Chicago Haymarket Martyrs are the best known. Workers still make pilgrimages to their grave site.

YouTube has a darned good description of the fight as it took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of the good things about it is that it has a miner’s version of the “8-Hour Song” that was sung everywhere.

The Fight Was Set to Music

I don’t think it’s the best version. The words for the best version are below and they are worth studying for the pure art of it, not to mention the great historical importance. I can’t find this version on YouTube and so I made up a tune and sang it myself. It’s on my Gene Lantz Facebook Page.

We’ve Always Fought over Working Hours

One could say that the entire history of labor could be written as a fight over working hours. I’ve written about that before.

The Battle Continues

For many years, millions of workers have been exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and could be worked pretty much endlessly with no extra pay. Among them are low-paid “salary” workers. The Obama Administration’s Department of Labor recently changed the rules so a lot more people could get overtime pay. Almost immediately, a coalition of bosses sprang up to oppose it. I wrote about that, too.

–Gene Lantz

Click here for more of these ideas

The 8-Hour Song

We mean to make things over,

We are tired of toil for naught

With but bare enough to live upon

And ne’er an hour for thought.

We want to feel the sunshine

And we want to smell the flow’rs

We are sure that God has willed it

And we mean to have eight hours;

We’re summoning our forces

From the shipyard, shop and mill

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will;

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will.


The beasts that graze the hillside,

And the birds that wander free,

In the life that God has meted,

Have a better life than we.

Oh, hands and hearts are weary,

And homes are heavy with dole;

If our life’s to be filled with drudg’ry,

What need of a human soul.

Shout, shout the lusty rally,

From shipyard, shop, and mill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

The voice of God within us

Is calling us to stand

Erect as is becoming

To the work of His right hand.

Should he, to whom the Maker

His glorious image gave,

The meanest of His creatures crouch,

A bread-and-butter slave?

Let the shout ring down the valleys

And echo from every hill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

Ye deem they’re feeble voices

That are raised in labor’s cause,

But bethink ye of the torrent,

And the wild tornado’s laws.

We say not toil’s uprising

In terror’s shape will come,

Yet the world were wise to listen

To the monetary hum.

Soon, soon the deep toned rally

Shall all the nations thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

From factories and workshops

In long and weary lines,

From all the sweltering forges,

And from out the sunless mines,

Wherever toil is wasting

The force of life to live

There the bent and battered armies

Come to claim what God doth give

And the blazon on the banner

Doth with hope the nation fill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

Hurrah, hurrah for labor,

For it shall arise in might

It has filled the world with plenty,

It shall fill the world with light

Hurrah, hurrah for labor,

It is mustering all its powers

And shall march along to victory

With the banner of Eight Hours.

Shout, shout the echoing rally

Till all the welkin thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…