Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Building A Nation...Again.

If you appreciate the work of Lewis Hine, you may want to buy this sheet of stamps from the US Postal Service.  While these images celebrate the people and the machinery that helped build America, it should not be forgotten that Lewis Hine exposed the system that treated workers and especially immigrant workers, as commodities, not human beings. From the tenements in New York City to the coalmines of Pennsylvania, and the fabric mills in the South, people were left with no social net, no healthcare, no schools, low pay, child labor, and more.  Hine helped raise awareness of the plight of those people through the use of his camera.
It should not be underestimated how bad conditions were at that time.  Striking mine workers and their families were shot by National Guardsmen in Colorado (by order of the Governor) in the late 1800s.  People in New York tenements were dying of diseases caused by overcrowding and lack of sanitation. Girls were working 14 hour days with a few minutes off for a meal.  Ultimately, public opinion was swayed by popular articles and photography, as well as by marches and strikes for better pay and a decent workweek.  The good old days were only good if you had money and social status.
The job isn't finished yet, as GOP Congressmen and certain right-wing groups demonize unions, demonize the poor, deny a living wage, healthcare and more, while the ultra rich get ever more rewards.  This is not too different from what happened a  hundred years ago.  We should learn from history, and yet we don't.  

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