Monday, September 02, 2013

Happy John L. Lewis Day!

So here it is Labor Day, or as we probably should call it in Lucas County, John L. Lewis Day.

The celebration at Lucas, home of the John L. Lewis Memorial Museum of Mining and Labor, was Saturday, but there's still time to consider the life, times and contributions to the labor movement and American life in general of our native son.

John Llewellyn Lewis, son of Thomas H. and Ann (Watkins) Lewis, immigrants from Wales, was born at Cleveland on Feb. 12, 1880. It's hard to find a trace of Cleveland now, but at that time it was a lively coal mining company camp that joined Lucas on the east.

At age 17, after three years of high school, Lewis went to work in the Big Hill Mine, joined the United Mine Workers of America Local No. 799 during 1900 and, in 1906, was elected a delegate to the UMW national convention.

During 1907, Lewis married Myrta Bell --- daughter of a Lucas physician --- and, in 1908, they moved to the vicinity of Springfield, Ill., and he began his rise to power in the union. He served as UMW president for 40 years. from 1920 until 1960, and was the major force in founding the Congress of Industrial Organization, which organized millions of industrial workers in the 1930s.

Autocratic, irascible and not universally loved --- especially among capitalists --- and a short-sighted isolationist during World War II, he remains a hero of the labor movement and nearly everyone who works for a living now benefits directly or indirectly from his labor.

Capitalists eventually discovered a way to circumvent unions --- moving jobs out of the United States and into developing nations where it still is possible to exploit children, offer minimal wages --- and eliminate benefits. And fill the shelves of Walmart with "affordable" crap.

But as labor rises again, as it inevitably must, here and abroad --- the Lewis example will remain.

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