Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oysterman Go On Strike

The Eastpointer

Oystermen Go on STRIKE!

By Richard E. Noble

Not too many people probably remember this incident but there was an actual labor strike right here in Franklin County. Someone said that it was the largest labor strike ever in Franklin County. Oystermen in Carrabelle, Eastpoint and Apalachicola picketed every dealer in Franklin County, 24 hours a day for a number of days. I remember the strike lasting a couple or three weeks but my wife says that it was a matter of days. To be honest I don't recall how long it actually lasted.

Strangely enough labor strikes here in America are not often remembered favorably by the towns, cities, or businesses that were struck. America's historians give labor strikes and protest a very short and terse recording.

I became personally interested in labor strikes several years ago. I found a book at a yard sale that mentioned my hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts. It credited my hometown with being the scene of one of the biggest and most influential labor strikes in American history. I wondered why I had never heard about it. I was raised in Lawrence and spent 27 years of my life there. How was it that I had never heard of the famous, most documented strike in all of American history? It seemed very strange.

I decided to research the Bread and Roses strike and other important labor strikes throughout American History. I have now accumulated a few hundred pages and I will be publishing a book on this subject.

I thought initially that I would write a book on every important labor strike in American history. In my naiveté I thought that there may have been 50 or so major labor strikes from the colonial period up until today. There were thousands - tens of thousands! Workers were machine-gunned, brutalized, harassed and murdered right here in America - as they are today in third world countries around the world where the battle for respect and fair wages continues.
What I hadn't realized was the fact that there has been a war going on here in the brickyards and parking lots of America ever since this country began. And what is even more amazing nobody seems to know about it. It certainly isn't being taught in our public schools or universities. As far as I know only Cornell University offers a degree program in the study of American Labor in the United States.

Contrary to common knowledge if it were not for the protests on the part of working people throughout American history what most of us have and enjoy today and consider a part of the greatness of America and its Dream would not be.

For example the eight hour work day, the forty hour work week, the paid vacation, any kind of medical insurance or retirement plan, public school education, social security, workmen's compensation, jobs for women and blacks, child labor restrictions, sanitary and healthy work places, decent non-toxic living areas, freedom of speech and the right to assemble, collective bargaining, the right to protest, freedom of the press, decent pays and benefits for soldiers, policemen and firemen and the list could continue. It would not be a stretch to credit the GI Bill and the establishment of the middle class to the efforts of blue collar soldiers who returned from World War II and continued the fight for fair pay and respect right here at home.

All the basic rights that we cherish were pounded into laws here in the streets, alleys and industrial parking lots of America. It was slave uprisings, runaway indentured servants, suffragettes, Planned Parenthood organizers and birth control advocates. It was labor organizations - socialist, communist and capitalist that changed the American Family and the life conditions for all Americans.

So, I was just thinking about that strike in Franklin County. I wonder if anybody kept a record of what actually happened. I wonder if anybody today cares that there was a time when a few thousand seafood workers right here in Franklin County were parading up and down the streets fighting for fair wages and respected treatment?

I remember telling several of the dealers at that time that this was the time for them to join in with their workers so that they could present a united front against all the problems that were coming down the road from the State and Federal government. They didn't.

All of those dealers are now out of business. Some of them sold out or bailed out, others went bankrupt or just gave it up. I often wonder if they would still be in business here in Franklin County if they had nurtured those two or three thousand striking seafood workers. Would two or three thousand contented workers fighting for the dealers' rights to stay in business have made a difference? Instead they won the strike against their workers and were able to cut oystermen’s wages (bag prices) but they lost the war - and their livelihoods.

Yes, Labor in America has an interesting history. You should read about it - if you can find a book on the subject. I have been hunting for years now. I have salvaged a large collection but you won't find any of them at your local bookstore. The whole story of the American labor movement seems to be a big secret.