Fannie Never Flinched
"Pennsylvania coal country was the most dangerous place to work
in America. Death and injury waited in the dark shafts where rock
fractured and came down without warning. On average, a man died in
the mines every day, often crushed by coal cars or killed by exlosives.
When children heard the whistle blow, they stopped playing and
ran home. They waited with their mothers, hearts pounding, as men
came up the street carrying the limp body. Covered with coal dust,
all miners' faces looked alike. At which house would the silent
procession stop? Sooner or later, nearly every family lost a father,
brother, or son."
In today's America there is a growing distrust of unions,
especially those that represent public workers like teachers who
receive pay and benefits through taxes. There is a perception of the
pampered demanding more frills. We have quite a short historical
memory. If not for unions, workers, including children, would labor
under horrendously dangerous conditions long hours for starvation
pay. Mary Cronk Farrell's Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman's Courage
In The Struggle for American Labor Union Rights is a timely reminder
of the bad old days we hopefully* will not return to.
Fannie Sellins was not a politician or PhD holding college
professor. The daughter of a house painter and a homemaker, she
finished eighth grade. When her husband died, he left her with four
children to support, the youngest an infant.
Out of necessity, Fannie went to work at a garment factory. Her
coworkers included girls as young as ten, many of whom had never
attended school. Pay was meager. Conditions were dangerous.
"'All the doors were locked from the outside at 7:15 each
morning. Sometimes it made me sick to think what would happen in that
big flimsy barracks if a fire should come,' Fannie said.
Hearing that seamstresses in other cities had joined the United
Garment Workers of America (UGWA), Fannie was inspired. She began
organizing coworkers. A walk out in 1909 was countered with a lock out.
When Fannie began to work for the UGWA full time, she reached
across in solidarity to workers in other hazardous occupations. One
group she worked extensively with was coal miners. Even being jailed
did not deter her from the very dangerous work that ultimately took
*I consider Fannie Never Flinched to be a must read and discuss
for a much larger demographic than that to which it is directed. When
it comes to wages and working conditions, we are going quickly in the
wrong direction. Large corporations are able to pay so little that
workers are eligible for Medicaid and SNAP and families are living in
cars and homeless shelters. Butchering of hefty animals, that used to
be the domain of skilled professionals, is being done by desperate,
often undocumented alien, workers at perilous speeds. Some
politicians, including Maine's Governor, Paul LePage, have tried to
overturn child labor laws. Ya think the waning influence of unions
might have something to do with that?
On a personal note, at UMaine we had ourselves a most excellent May
Day program. While we feasted on pizza, soda, and chips we listened
to a wide range of speakers addressing the perils of today's world and
the need for solidarity. My favorites were the women from Food And
Medicine, an organization dedicated to the concept that no one should
have to choose between. There were also sweet music/poetry interludes.
A great big shout out goes out to all who participated.
Sent from my iPod