Posts Tagged ‘labor movement’

H’mmmm. Something here sounds familiar….


I am such a history geek!   Over the past several years, as I have taught American History to my fifth grade students, I have learned more and more about the social and economic history of the United States, and what has lead us to where we are today.

A couple of summers ago, I took a graduate course with a bunch of other teachers.  We learned all about the Industrial Revolution, and we got to travel to the Lowell Textile museum and to the Tenement Museum in New York City.  We read “Triangle” and “Bread and Roses”.  Man, what an eye opener!

Did you know that at the time of the Industrial Revolution, at the turn of the twentieth century, the original mill owners were actually pretty socially progressive?  They built those big mills on the rivers, then they set up housing units for the young women workers.  The pay was pretty good for the time, and it included housing and food.  The original millworkers were offered educational opportunities, music, lectures and a chance to enjoy city life.  You know, come to Lowell, earn a living and “better yourself”.  What an amazing opportunity! The textile mills could improve the lives of Americans, support and improve the economy and make money for the mill owners all at once.  What a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, as I also learned, over time the mill owners faced so much competition from other entrepreneurs that they were forced to make some changes.  For example, they started to charge the workers for their housing.  They increased the hours of work while keeping the pay the same.  H’m.  Gradually, as more and more factories popped up all over the East Coast, the workers faced more and more hardships.  Wages declined, the housing got worse and worse, the work became more demanding. The mill owners were desperate for more cheap labor.  Enter the giant wave of immigrants, the tenements of the Lower East Side, the squalor, the poverty, the disease.

Workers were fired or jailed for even thinking about forming unions.

The original progressive ideas of the early mill owners were beaten down by the demands of capitalism. The profit motive trumped any social motive.  Factory workers were looked upon as the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Those in power cared nothing for their lives or well being.

As a teacher of history, I am always hoping that my students will learn valuable lessons from the past.  As a student of history, I am always hoping that my fellow humans will have learned from the lessons of the past.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I read this morning’s Boston Globe.  It featured an article titled

Some chafe at charter school’s low pay for tutors

Believe it or not, many Charter Schools around the country are hiring new college graduates to work as “tutors” for their students, to help them to raise their test scores.  The young people were hired at a low rate of pay, but were given free housing with other tutors, and offered the opportunity to train as teachers.  Unfortunately, over time the corporate owners of the Charter Mills……I mean “Schools”…..realized that it costs a lot to have a fleet of tutors available at all hours of the day and night to assist students with every possible academic question.  They kept the salaries intact, but asked for more and more hours of work.  They began to charge the tutors for housing.

Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.

So here is a newsflash for all of those “education reformers” out there who bow to the superiority of corporate Charter Schools.  When you treat teachers like factory workers, you aren’t actually improving education.  When you hire the cheapest possible laborers to provide a service, you aren’t exactly getting the most highly skilled work force.  When you claim that you are working to better the lives of teachers and students, you are full of shit.

We’ve been down this road before, folks.  Go out and research The Bread and Roses strike. Research the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Read about the labor movement of the 1920’s.  Then read the article that I linked above.

The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the same.

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