I’m writing this on May 2nd, the day after May Day, which is known as International Workers Day around the world. It’s a national holiday in more than 80 countries.
Second to Labor Day, which drew as many as 20,000 people to Pittsburg at the turn of the century, May Day was the most celebrated organized labor observance of the year here in southeast Kansas.
This year, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe took to the streets on May 1 to demand better working conditions.
Speaking of work, the traveling exhibition, “The Way We Worked”, which is coming to the Miners Hall Museum in Franklin. The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit, scheduled to open May 11th, will explore the stories of America's workers and invite us to consider how the workplace and workforce have changed over time through photographs from the National Archives, audio and video clips and hand-on components. The museum will be open Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sunday Noon – 4 p.m.
In conjunction with the exhibit and the world of work, Carol Ann Robb organized a program at the Pittsburg Public Library this past week in which I participated with my wife, Linda, Randy Roberts, Janette Mauk, Mark Johnson, Carol Ann Robb, Lem Sheppard, and Gil Cooper.
The program featured biographical narratives about the work and work places of some pretty diverse, interesting, creative, and iconoclastic men and women from these parts.
To my mind, any look at the workforce and workplace in America also necessitates a look at the moral and sociological aspects of labor.
I found some excellent quotes in the most recent issue of “The Sun” magazine that speak to work in the areas of class distinction and distribution of wealth. Here they are:
“When you go to work, if your name is on the building, you’re rich. If your name is on your desk, you’re middle-class. If your name is on your shirt, you’re poor.” — Rich Hall
“If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them siting upon another man’s shoulders.” — Henry David Thoreau
Page 2 of 3 -
“In my experience, middle-class Americans do not feel at ease around poor people. Even people of high ideals who care about the needy experience discomfort in the presence of the needy themselves.” — Rabbi Eliezer Finkelman
“If rich, it is easy enough to conceal our wealth; but if poor, it is not quite so easy to conceal our poverty….It is less difficult to hide a thousand guineas than one hole in our coat.” — C.C. Colton
“All the laws made for the betterment of workers’ lives have their origin with the workers. Hours are shortened, wages go up, conditions are better — only if the workers protest.” — Mary Heaton Vorse
“In Japan, the highest paid executive earns only fifteen times what the average worker does. Here, CEOs earn five hundred times more. That’s supposed to motivate the American worker? To do what, kidnap his boss?” — Source unknown
“There are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, “That person I see is a savage monster”; instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do. If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does, he will say, in all honesty, that his is slaving twenty hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods and services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees. But when you take a look at what the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast inequalities in pay and conditions, you see the reality is something far different. — Noam Chomsky
“During the contest for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, John F. Kennedy visited a mine in West Virginia. ‘Is it true you’re the son of one of our wealthiest men?’ asked one of the miners. Kennedy admitted that this was true. ‘Is it true that you’ve never wanted for anything and had everything you wanted?’ ‘I guess so,’ Kennedy replied. ‘Is it true you’ve never done a day’s work with your hands in all your life?’ Kennedy nodded. ‘Well then, let me tell you this,’ said the miner. ‘You haven’t missed a thing.’ — Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes
On an ironic note, I read in “Images of Pittsburg” by Randy Roberts and Janette Mauk, that the wonderful Pittsburg Public Library in which we were reading last Monday was completed in 1910 with a $40,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie.
Page 3 of 3 -
Ironic in that the ancestors of many at the program might well have been among the ranks of local miners protesting the acceptance of his money because of Carnegie’s treatment of workers during a strike in Pennsylvania.
Apparently the protest had some effect, though. The name over the entrance simply says “Public Library” and is believed to be the only Carnegie library in the nation on which his name is nowhere attached.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org