One of the first actions of the, hopefully one term, Governor of Maine, Paul Richard LePage, was to remove a large mural celebrating the history of Maine workers movement from the lobby of the offices of the Maine Department of Labor. LePage himself a product of the deprivations of our particular brand of Capitalism has viciously turned on his own humble roots.
The obfuscating of the proud history of the American Labor movement has been a favorite pastime of the power class in this country for some time. Unfortunately their assumption that if you take away somebody's history they will lose their identity, pride and the will to fight for their rights is correct. It is a tactic that has served, slave traders and owners, tyrants and dictators, remarkably well throughout history.
Maine artist, Judy Taylor, won the 2007 competition set up by the Maine arts commissioner for creating a mural detailing the history of the stat's labor history. Judy took a year to research and create her work.
11 panels depict events in the history of the working class in Maine from colonial times to the present. Maybe once the mural is restored to it's rightful place after LePage is voted out of office Judy can ad an extra panel depicting LePage's visceral hatred of his own working-class roots. He even had conference rooms renamed so as not to have Labor leaders mentioned in the Department of Labor.
On the job training from a very young age and with little regulation was the way the cottage industries created a workforce in preindustrial colonial America.
This year LePage supported a bill that would loosen Maine's child labor laws. "I went to work at 11 years old," he said at a town hall meeting. "I became governor. It's not a big deal. Work doesn't hurt anybody." Oh for the good old days before we had a Labor movement.
|The Textile Workers
The first workers in the textile mills of the Industrial Revolution were primarily young New England farm girls. They worked long hours, often in dangerous conditions, were paid little and lived in company boarding houses and shopped in company stores.
|The Secret Ballot
Not until 1891 were Americans able to vote for elected officials without the open and often intrusive scrutiny of the authorities and employers.
|First Labor's Day
In 1884 Maine workers celebrated their first Labor's Day. Labor Day became a Federal holiday in 1887 when in order to calm tensions, after U.S. Marshals and military killed 13 and wounded 57 striking workers, the US Congress created the holiday. At this time the International Labor movement was already commemorating another fatal labor/government confrontation on the 1st of May — the Haymarket massacre. President Grover Cleveland decided on a new day already starting the pattern of trying to separate the American Labor movement from it's proud history.
|The Woods Workers
Founded in 1905 the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) was the only American union to welcome women, immigrants, African Americans and Asians into the organization. Even thought they were often targeted, by employers, with violence and even murder for public speeches the Wobblies worked to organize workers and foster social justice and worker empowerment. In Maine they focused on organizing the woodsmen.
|The 1937 Strike
The 1930s were a time of Labor unrest and turmoil. Workers all over the country were standing up and fighting for their rights. They were met with court injunctions, state conspiracy laws, strike breakers, sabotage, charges of communism, state Police, National Guard, sub-machine guns and violence.
Fannie Coralie Perkins was born in 1880 to Susan Bean Perkins and Frederick W. Perkins, the owner of a stationer's business (both of her parents originally were from Maine). She was a champion of worker's rights and worked tirelessly to promote better working conditions, safety, minimum wage and unemployment insurance laws. In 1933 she was appointed by Roosevelt as Secretary of the Department of Labor.
|Rosie the Riveter
During WWII many Maine women worked in the factories and shipyard helping America win the war. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military.
|The Strike of 1986
While experiencing record profits International Paper management decided to cut labor benefits, demanding: high monthly payments for health insurance; end to double-time pay on Sundays; elimination of all holidays (including Christmas) and wage givebacks, during collective bargaining negotiations. All of UPIU's (United Paperworkers' International Union) locals at IP struck but due to lack of community support and no history of member activism and little organizational infrastructure the strike failed. International Paper immediately fired every single union worker who had struck, and hired permanent replacements.
|The Future of Labor in Maine
" A figure from the past offers a hammer to workers of the present, who are unsure
of its value in a changing world." — Judy Taylor
Thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of workers and labor organizers we enjoy many benefits we have come to take for granted. Lets not forget the blood spilt and lives lost to get us here.
About Judy Taylor
Judy Taylor is a professional painter and art gallery owner on Mt. Desert Island, Maine. Her studio is in the town of Southwest Harbor surrounded by Acadia National Park.
"Its not a bad place to hang out, national park, harbors, ocean, islands, pristine lakes and great hiking trails to incredible vistas." — she writes.
Her work has been nationally exhibited and can be seen in private and corporate collections. JudyTaylorStudio.com