What Goes around Comes Around

By Leary, Ellen | Monthly Review, May 1998 | Go to article overview

What Goes around Comes Around


Leary, Ellen, Monthly Review


When I was asked to write on the history of May Day, I took a big gulp. Having never been taught about May Day in either school or college, I had to do some reading. Oh, I knew the basic one sentence, isn't that when they hung those guys in Chicago for throwing a bomb? Clearly that wouldn't be enough of a speech, nor is it in fact the real story. So after all my digging, I'm going to start with my conclusion: as the old saying goes, "What goes around comes around."

May Day, the left-wing version of Labor Day, has its roots in 1880's in the demand for shorter work days. The parallels between the events of 1886 and today are both startling and unnerving. The country was undergoing profound economic change as the Second Industrial Revolution took hold. In a ten year period between 1880 and 1890 capital investment in manufacturing grew threefold. The death of small-business capitalism was giving way to trusts, mergers, and monopolies. Steel production went from half of England and France's to outstrip them both and provide a third of the total steel production in the world. The workforce grew dramatically, from 2.7 million to 5.9 million. This was the period when those huge factories sometimes employing 10 thousand or more workers were built.

It was the Gilded Age and robber baron capitalism. While the rich lived in splendor (ever been through their castles in Newport, Rhode Island?), things were terrible for the vast majority of working people (railroad and food workers, factory hands, miners, textile, clothing and shoe workers, clerks). The trusts, the monopolists, and the wealthy justified their position through social Darwinism. This was an ideology particularly suited to the robber barons' needs. Much like today's right-wing ideology, it held that "Poverty is only a proof of indolence and vice. Wealth simply shows the industry and virtue of the possessor." No need to be concerned about the poverty of the vast majority, it was their fault.

The country was just showing signs of recovering from the financial crisis of the 1870's which had touched off such widespread riots and strikes that it became known as the Great Uprising. Nine years later unemployment still hovered around 20 percent. Wages, which had declined 15 percent from 18821886 alone, were finally beginning to stabilize. The average workweek was six days, twelve to sixteen hours a day. Child labor and company stores, especially in the South, were common. Working conditions were horrendous (mind you, the Triangle Shirt Factory was still in the future). Injury rates were rising. Boycotts, the main weapon of the working class, were only slightly more successful than strikes. Lockouts, scabs, company militias, blacklisting, and "yellow dog" contracts (I promise not to join a union if you promise to hire me) were common. Although unions were still illegal and subject to conspiracy charges, business was rapidly turning to the injunction because increasingly juries weren't returning guilty verdicts. Things were better left to friendly judges. As bad as things were in the workplace they were even worse at home. Rent gouging prevailed. The situation was, as Mother Jones said, one of "hunger, rags, and despair."

Many of the new workplaces were full of foreign-born workers. Incidentally, until immigration restriction laws were passed in 1924, about half of immigrants returned to their country of origin, just staying long enough to make some money. But back to our story. Those that were coming to this country in the mid-1880s were often met at the boats by Day Labor Pools and employment agencies. Unknowingly their first job was more than likely to be a scab. Sometimes, especially when strikers could explain to these workers what was going on, they would walk off the job. Many times they joined the picket line. But usually, these workers just went from one scab situation to another.

Working people weren't completely defenseless, however. Although the repression following the Great Uprising had devastated the labor movement, the movement was hanging on and starting to regroup. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

What Goes around Comes Around
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.