07 September 2009

Labor Day

This is a reprint of a blog article from 2007. It is a good reminder of just what it took to end child labor, long weeks, and longer hours. We owe so much to those willing to stand up to corporate abuse of labor. While enjoying your BBQ or Days at the beach ... remember the laborers who gave us the 40 hour/5 day week, vacations, and minimum wage. Is it time for another fight to regain the benefits and jobs lost?

My grandfather, William Hunter Gibson White, left Scotland at the time of the great strike in 1926. He had been a mining oversman for many years and was a descendant of miners. With the recent deaths of men in coal mines here, I wanted to share the testimony of his great grandfather about the difficulties in mining coal. This helped to end the use of women and children in the coal mines:

Testimony of William Hunter, Mining Oversman, Arniston Colliery before the Commission on Children's Employment in Mines and Manufacturies. First Report 1842 from Parliamentary Papers 1842(381).XVI.I pp 453-454

"I have been 20 years in the works of Robert Dundas, Esq., and had much experience in the manner of drawing coal, as well as the habits and practices of the collier people.

Until the last eight months women and lassies were brought below these works, when Mr. Alexander Maxton, our manager, issued an order to exclude them from going below, having some months prior given intimation of the same. In
addition to the exclusion of females, no boys will hereafter be permitted to be
brought under 12 years of age, and not then, unless they are qualified in the
reading and writing: They require to be examined prior to going below.

Boys of 14 years of age perform their duties with greater care and quickness. The improved mode of railing roads and ventilating economises time, and men now find they have no one to depend on but themselves, go more regularly to work, and take nearly as much money with one or two boys as when the whole family went below.

In fact, women always did the lifting or heavy part of the work, and neither they nor the children were treated like human beings, nor are they where they are employed. Females submit to work in places when no man or even lad could be got to labour in: they work in bad roads, up to their knees in water, in a posture nearly double: they are below till the last hour of pregnancy: they have swelled haunches and ankles, and are prematurely brought to the grave, or, what is worse, lingering existence.

Many of the daughters of the miners are now at respectable service. I have two former mine women in families in Leith, and who are much delighted with the change.

In honor of my grandfather and the men who recently lost their lives, here is the Merle Travis song: "Dark as a Dungeon" and the first photograph taken of my grandfather in the states with the message on the back about the way he could now dress with the mines behind him:
"This is me sitting at the door. I am ready for work, a great difference from coming home in dirty pit clothes. Tell Mac I will write him shortly. I have had little time to myself yet; having had so many places to go."


Travis said...

An excellent reminder. Thanks.

This Eclectic Life said...

What a great historical piece to have in your family. With a jobless rate of 10% right now, let's indeed celebrate the laborers! Hope you had a great holiday weekend.