Saturday, September 3, 2016

Labor Day, 1916

Strikeback Saturday makes up for last week's quickie glance at 1916 to celebrate Labor Day Weekend by taking a long, hard look at U.S. labor relations 100 years ago.
"Capital, Labor, and War Prosperity" by John McCutcheon for Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1916
The two issues in the doorway of this first Winsor McCay cartoon are the Workman's Compensation Act and the Keating Owen Child Labor Bill.
"Save the Children First, Senators!" by Winsor McCay in New York American, July, 1916
Congress went on its vacation anyway, so both issues were still waiting for them when they got back.
"Training Our Next Generation!" by Winsor McCay in New York American, July, 1916
The Child Labor Bill sponsored by Congressman Edward Keating (D-CO) and Senator Robert L. Owen (D-OK) sought to prohibit the sale in interstate commerce of goods produced by factories that employed children under 14, mines that employed children younger than 16, and any facility where children under 14 worked after 7:00 p.m., before 6:00 a.m., or more than eight hours per day. The bill had almost unanimous support from Republican senators, as well as the strong backing of the Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson.
"Getting Admission, but No Welcome" by Knott in Dallas News, 1916
It faced strong opposition, however, from advocates of "states' rights," particularly southern senators. With slave labor a thing of the past and migrant labor a thing of the future (at least in the American Southeast), southern textile mills relied more heavily than other regions and industries on cheap, poorly educated child labor. Democrat Lee Slater Overman was Senator from North Carolina from 1903 to 1930, and literally made this argument in defense of child labor:
"See, It Keeps Them Out of Mischief" by Rollin Kirby in New York World, 1916
The only two Republican Senators opposing the bill were Boies Penrose and George T. Oliver, both of Pennsylvania, which may have endeared them to the coal mining interests, but earned them plenty of condemnation from home state newspapers. "Is it any wonder," editorialized the Philadelphia Public Ledger, "that hundreds and thousands of Pennsylvanians hang their heads in shame when Pennsylvania's representation in the Senate of the United States is brought to their attention?"
"Their Parting Shot" by Frederick T. Richards in Philadelphia North American, 1916
After an initial defeat prompted some changes to the bill, Congress, including 11 of the Southern Democratic Senators, passed the Keating Owen Child Labor Act on September 1, 1916 with a provision that it go into effect a year later. Siding with a North Carolina textile mill owner, however, the Supreme Court would rule it an unconstitutional regulation of interstate commerce in Hammer v. Dagenhart in 1918.

Labor conditions for adults were at issue in 1916 as well. The Kern-McGillicuddy Federal Employees' Compensation Act mentioned in the first McCay cartoon above passed Congress on September 7, creating compensation for federal employees who lost income due to on-the-job injury.
"The Goat" by Clarence Batchelor in Topeka State Journal, August, 1916
New York street railway workers began an extended strike in August seeking the right to unionize and a five-cent increase in pay. Streetcar management refused to deal with the union, insisting that they would only deal with workers as individuals  certainly not with some "alien organization" with offices out of town. The dispute continued throughout August and September, with management trying to scuttle agreements hammered out through arbitration with Mayor J.P. Mitchel, and New York trade unions nearly instituting a general strike.
"If They All Strike It Will Be Like This," by Sidney J. Greene for New York Telegram, August 4, 1916
Meanwhile, a national railroad strike by the 360,000 engineers, brakemen, firemen, conductors and other workers on the nation's 225 railways threatened to grind America's economy to a standstill.
"The Big Fellow Pays the Freight" by Billy Ireland in Columbus Evening Dispatch, August, 1916

The central issue was the unions' demand for an eight-hour day, with overtime pay beyond that.
"The Millstone" by Alford in Baltimore Star, September, 1916
Wilson called unions and railroad management to a White House summit in August for two days of arbitration. Failing to bring the parties to an agreement, Wilson pressured the Congress to take up the "Adamson Bill," named for Congressman William C. Adamson (D-GA), promising a 16% pay raise for railroad workers and, on a trial basis, the 8-hour day.
"Making the Straw Fly" by Ole May in Cleveland Leader, August/September, 1916
Over Republican objections, including those voiced by presidential candidate Charles Evans Hughes, the Adamson Bill was introduced and passed by the House on September 1, passed by the Senate on September 2, signed into law on September 3, and went into effect on September 5. If ever a bill was "railroaded" through Congress, this was it.
"Mediation" by T.E. Powers in Hearst Newspapers, September, 1916
At any rate, the strike was thus averted, leaving implementation of the details up to the rail barons. Federal regulation of private companies' working hours was unprecedented; but in this instance, the Supreme Court would uphold the Adamson Act (Wilson v. New,1917).

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