Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

Currently I'm reading Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," 1492 to Present." Though perhaps more cynical than I am able to swallow, Zinn does tell the 'other side' of American history, the story of the poor and 'have-nots', a group which has included in various centuries Native Americans, women, children, African Americans, immigrants, farmers, labor workers, religious minorities, and others.

Zinn deflates some of our American heroes like Jefferson and Lincoln by describing the varied political and selfish motives behind their endeavors like the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation, rather than purist American ideals. Zinn then highlights aspects of American history like the labor movement. Though called communist and criminal, labor reform was perhaps one of America's greatest democratic triumphs for the 'ordinary' man? The poor labor workers had everything to lose by contributing even a small amount, and the very rich like J.P. Morgan had so little to lose by sharing a fraction of their wealth.

Indeed, true history is like a complicated woven fabric. There are many sides to each issue. However, though very many American institutions, businesses, museums, foundations, banks, universities, etc... were founded by men like Carnegie and J.P. Morgan, with a fraction of their wealth, Labor Day should help us keep in mind that these institutions were built on the backs of thousands of ordinary American workers, like my ancestors and yours.

Labor Day: JP Morgan Vs. The Coal Miners
Labor Day: JP Morgan Vs. The Coal Miners

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw Zinn speak in Cambridge a few years ago, on the same bill as Ralph Nader and Patti Smith. Smart guy, but lousy speaker.