Category: Archive

Editorial: Labor’s future

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The history of American labor in the industrial era is in no small measure the history of Irish in America. As the millennium draws to a close, we can look back proudly on 150 years of unstinting contributions by Irish immigrants and their descendants to the industrial and economic might of this country.

Extending now well into this century, the Irish have provided much of the brawn of the U.S. labor movement. Just as earlier generations built the railroads and the canals, the modern infrastructure of the 1900s — the bridges, skyscrapers, tunnels and highways — is very much the handiwork of the Irish. The Irish, in addition, have been and continue to be a powerful presence in the day-to-day operations of our great cities, distinguishing themselves on the docks, the subways and railyards, the schools and hospitals, the fire stations and precinct houses. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a single traditionally working-class endeavor that the Irish haven’t had a hand in building, shaping and running.

There have been great Irish labor leaders too. George Meany, Mike Quill, and current AFL-CIO head John Sweeney stand out as champions of the working man and woman. Their skills as organizers and negotiators, along with their personal charisma, have helped give their supporters broad political clout that they might not have otherwise enjoyed.

It is hard to predict precisely what the future holds for the labor movement. The technology era is in essence a post-industrial one. Will labor be able to organize and grow in high-tech centers? Will it successfully expand into traditionally white-collar professions? The answers to these questions and others will emerge over time, of course, but those who are tempted to write off organized labor as an anachronism in today’s free-lance society would do well recall its strong rebound in the 1990s after a decade of what amounted to government-sanctioned union busting.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we acknowledge both all that working men and women have given to this country as well as the great benefits those workers and their families have derived from their toil under the union umbrella. Labor’s foundation, it seems, remains solid. With imagination, vigilance and energy, it should continue its march forward.

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