Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions

Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions

Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions

Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions

Synopsis

Over the past two centuries, Massachusetts workers have fought for many important advances that would later be enjoyed by other Americans. The right to organize, restrictions on work hours and child labor, and workers' compensation were all pioneered in the Commonwealth. From the 1825 strike of Boston carpenters for a ten-hour day to recent victories in hospitals and universities, Massachusetts workers and their unions have been in the forefront of the battle for dignity and justice. This book tells their story. In eighteen chapters, beginning with the first industrial workers in the nation - the Lowell "mill girls" - the authors describe the struggles of working men and women to improve their lives. In the process, the book provides a valuable perspective on the development of the American labor movement.

Excerpt

Massachusetts has an extraordinary history of work and labor. It was in mill towns such as Lowell, Lynn, and Lawrence that the modern factory system began. And these communities, as well as many other towns and cities across the Commonwealth, were sites of struggles that were central in the development of the American labor movement. Many important labor organizations, including the Knights of St. Crispin, the Women's Trade Union League, and Nine to Five, got their start in Massachusetts. For others, such as the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the American Federation of Labor, events in Massachusetts became formative parts of their history. From the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, through the struggle at the Colonial meatpacking plant, to recent victories at hospitals and universities, Massachusetts workers and their unions have been in the forefront of the fight for dignity and justice.

As a result of these struggles and the organizations they built, Massachusetts workers gained many important advances that would later be enjoyed by other American workers. The right to organize, restrictions on work hours and child labor, and workers' compensation were all pioneered in the Commonwealth. While it took several generations for these early experiments to become a reality for all workers across Massachusetts and the nation, they sprang from a vision of a better world.

This book contains eighteen chapters of this extraordinary and complex history. These are pieces of the quilt made by the people who struggled in what was for them the Commonwealth of Toil. From the outset we make no claim to provide readers with a complete history. We believe we have carefully chosen which stories to tell, yet there are many wonderful tales that remain untold. Space has also not allowed us to include material from a number of rich writings about Massachusetts social history, including working-class communities, family life, ethnic and race relations, and a number of other issues.

This volume is intended to be an introduction to the history of work and labor -- to the people and the events that shaped what Massachusetts and the nation would become. It is a history too often ignored at both the high school and college level. We hope to have filled a gap for students as well as the general public. Most important, we hope to provide Massachusetts workers the opportunity to understand and celebrate their own history.

The project was coordinated at the Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with the assistance of the Center for Labor Research at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. This book is a collaborative effort of the three primary authors and a number of researchers and advisers. Patricia Reeve from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and Nancy Lessin from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) read early drafts and . . .

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