Monday, March 07, 2011

On This Day in History

On March 7, 1932, according to This Week in History, a publication of, a Ford [Motor Company] Hunger March began on Detroit’s east side and proceeded ten miles, seeking relief during the Great Depression. Facing hunger and evictions, workers had formed neighborhood Unemployed Councils. Along the route, the marchers were given good wishes from Detroit Mayor Frank Murphy as well as two motorcycle escorts, and thousands joined the marchers along the route.

At the Detroit city limit, however, the marchers were met by Dearborn police and doused by fire hoses. Despite the cold weather, they continued to the Employment Office at the Ford River Rouge plant, from which there had been massive layoffs. Five workers were killed and nineteen wounded by police and company “security” personnel armed with pistols, rifles and a machine gun.

Dave Moore, one of the marchers that day (photo above), said, “That blood was Black blood and White blood. One of the photos that was published in the Detroit Times, but never seen since, shows a Black woman, Mattie Woodson, wiping the blood off the head of Joe DiBlasio, a White man who lay there dying...It’s been 75 years, but when you drive down Miller Road today, your car tires will be moistened with the blood that those five shed.”

70,000 people showed up for the funeral of the five who were killed that day and grave markers with the words “His Life for the Union” pay tribute to the fallen marchers in Woodmere Cemetery on Detroit’s west side.

We imagine that Black and White people have always fought their battles separately, but Bacon's Rebellion proves otherwise. The death of Crispus Attucks proves otherwise. John Brown's raid proves otherwise. The Detroit Hunger March proves otherwise. And the civil rights struggles of the 1960's prove otherwise.

There's a reason the Powers-That-Be make such an effort to keep Black and White workers segregated and separated. It's called "divide and conquer." Edna Bonacich developed her Split Labor Market Theory out of that idea, suggesting that if the Fat Cats convince one group of workers that they're "special," giving them a little more money, a few extra benefits, an illusion of respect, they'll help to hold another group down to maintain their position and both groups will keep each other too busy to notice who's really making out like a bandit. White unions bought this shell game for a long time, but one day they realized that in addition to getting worked (as in producing all the profit for their bosses to get rich while they couldn't make ends meet), they were getting worked (as in being manipulated out of their common sense).

It's solidarity that gave workers in this country the weekend, eight-hour work days, lunch hours, sick leave, vacation time, health insurance, work place safety guarantees and every other benefit they now enjoy. Even so, workers in the U.S. work more hours and get less goodies (including raises) than workers do in other industrialized nations. The "owners of the means of production" know this. So they're attacking any ability workers might have to hold onto those rights.

I call them rights rather than "special privileges" because the U.S. Constitution guarantees the citizens of this nation -- Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native, men, women, and children -- "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I'd like to see Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin pursuing his happiness with no job, no income, no health care, and no prospects of any showing up. Hell, I'd like to see him pursuing happiness with the kind of wages and health care many people who are working struggle to meet their families' basic needs with. One thing's for sure: Walker won't be having to "tighten" his belt, will he? So why should those whose labor bankrolls this country's corporations and government have to tighten ours?

I grew up being told I'd better "know which side my bread's buttered on." And I know. Whoever writes my paycheck in the lowest possible amount I will accept only does so in order to keep me hanging in the vampire closet (for ready feeding). I feel no particular loyalty to whomever buys my labor on a given day because they obviously demonstrate no such loyalty to me. I give them without fail more than they ask for. But I stand beside my brothers and sisters in the human race -- in and outside of this country -- who are committed to fighting for justice for everyone come hell or high water. Even -- and maybe especially -- if they're police officers like this one at the Capitol Building in Wisconsin on February 24th:

Those who have the power may be able to brutalize us in senseless, cruel and unusual ways. They may be able to operate as if they they do not have to answer to anyone. And they may be able to launch unjust and insanely expensive wars for us to fight in, die in and pay for. But the real power in this country is supposed to be "of the people, by the people and for the people." They seem to have forgotten this. Let us not forget it, too.

Funeral of those killed at the Detroit Hunger March, 1932


veganelder said...

Superlative...thanks for writing this. So many of us are either ignorant or afflicted with amnesia re the lengthy struggle that goes on where the "fat cats" try to sabotage solidarity among workers. It is both astonishing and dismaying to see the continued efforts by money to crush unions.

It is easy to figure out whose side you are on...when did owners or management fight for higher wages? When did owners or management fight for more benefits? When did owners or management fight for the 40 hour work week? When did owners or management fight for child labor laws? I could go on, if you don't get the point by won't.

Great post!

Changeseeker said...

Thanks, Veganelder. I once saw a poster that read: "Class consciousness is knowing which side of the fence you're on. Class analysis is knowing who's on that side with you." As you point out, it's hardly rocket science. It's amazing to me how many people in the U.S. really don't get it.

Blaque Ink said...

I agree. This is a great and very informative post.

Changeseeker said...

Thanks, Blaque. I really appreciate getting the weekly updates from This Week in History. It gives me a better perspective on things sometimes.