“When I was going to school, the economic development of the U.S. was presented sort of as a great triumphal march, a wonderful thing. The U.S. after the Civil War becomes a leading economic power in the world. And we’re taught about the great industrialists, about the railroad magnates, and about Rockefeller and Carnegie and Harriman and Hill, but what is left out of that story is the working people.
When I studied history in school, even up through the graduate level, I did not learn about the immigrants who worked on the transcontinental railroad, the Irish and Chinese immigrants who worked on that railroad and died in great numbers, long hours, sickness, overwork. I did not learn about the girls who worked in Lowell textile mills, went into the job at the age of 12, died at the age of 25. I didn’t learn about people who worked in Rockefeller’s oil refineries or in his coal mines or in Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills. I didn’t hear about the history of labor struggle in this country. I didn’t learn about the Lawrence textile strike of 1912, or the Colorado coal strike of 1913-1914.
It’s very important for people to learn about the history of labor struggle because otherwise they would think that whatever gains the working people had made (for instance the eight-hour day) they would think that it came from Congress or the president. No. Whatever gains working people have made in this country have come from their own efforts, from their struggles, from their strikes, their boycotts, their facing off the police and the National Guard. It’s a very important lesson for people, because it’s not a lesson just for the labor movement. It’s a lesson for all of us. It tells us that if we are going to achieve any justice in this country, we are not going to get it from the initiative of the government. We are going to get it because citizens organize, get together, and they agitate and they demonstrate. This is what they did in the civil rights movement, and the movement against the War in Vietnam, the women’s movement, Native American movement. Citizens get together, they organize, they protest, they commit civil disobedience, they create a new atmosphere in the country, and then something changes. That’s the most important thing people could learn from a history of this country.”
The first time you visit City Lights and journey down to the basement where our paperback non-fiction is kept, one of the things you will notice is that a section called People’s History is nearly three times the size of its neighboring sections American and European History. Here’s an open invitation to stop by and browse this Labor History Month… (And we have quite a few books by Mr Zinn too…)