Christmas Eve marked the anniversary of one of the darkest moments in United States labour history:
On that day in 1913, 73 people (mostly children) died in a stampede following a false cry of “Fire!” at the Italian Hall in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The incident occurred during the Copper Strike of 1913. Most of the copper mines were situated in a line on the north side of the peninsula: The mines were shut down completely. The mine owners called for the National Guard to be sent and also hired hundreds of strike breaker thugs.
The mine owners were flush with cash though, and convinced they could starve the workers into ending their strike.
Many of the strikers were recent immigrants from Finland. More than 500 people attended the Christmas event at the Italian Hall, in a little town now known as Calumet.
Then, a stranger stepped into the main hall and yelled “Fire!” There was no fire, but extreme panic spread through the building.
In the mayhem that followed as people tried to escape body piled up on top of body, the children stood no chance Witnesses would later say they could identify the man who had raised the false alarm and much of the evidence pointed to his occupation:
He was a strikebreaker.
The enquiry held after the Disaster was a farce. Witnesses who spoke foreign languages were asked questions in English and required to answer in English. Many witnesses were called who were not even at the Hall or who had not seen what happened.
In the end, the official verdict was that no one knew what had happened at the Hall.
One lasting legacy of this event is the famous quote from Schenck v US, where Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
To this day most believe it was a calculated act of sabotage by the Mining companies resulting in the murder of 60 young children.
The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers – 123 women and 23 men – who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths.
Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged 16 to 23; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese.
Because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a then-common practice to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and to reduce theft– many of the workers could not escape and jumped from the high windows.
When the House on Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed filmmakers to testify about communism in the industry, a few held their ground — and for a time, lost their livelihood.
Courtesy of PhotofestIt
A call from the Committee was the casting call no one in Hollywood wanted to receive. In October 1947, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) convened a hearing in Washington, D.C., to investigate subversive activities in the entertainment industry, 41 screenwriters, directors and producers were subpoenaed.
Most witnesses were “friendly” — that is, willing to respond to the committee’s central question: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
And those who confessed to membership were offered the opportunity to name “fellow travellers,” thereby regaining their good standing with the committee and, by extension, the American film industry.
Ten witnesses — all current or former party members — banded together in protest, refusing to cooperate on First Amendment grounds (freedom of speech, right of assembly and freedom of association).
The HUAC disagreed and found the so-called Hollywood Ten in contempt of Congress, fined them each $1,000 and sentenced them to up to a year in federal prison.
All 10 artists also were fired by a group of studio executives — and the era of the Hollywood blacklist began.
Peta Granger from Lush says: ‘I think for us to cut people’s wages and to expect continued growth and engagement in this climate would have just been a silly business decision.’ Image Credit: Photograph by Tracey Nearmy/AAP.
On Sunday the Fair Work Commission’s controversial cuts to penalty rates took effect across the country, affecting thousands of workers in the retail, pharmacy, fast-food and hospitality industries.
But there were some companies, across those sectors, that stood firm and decided not to pass on the penalty rate cuts.
‘I cannot imagine a situation where we would consider cutting anyone’s wages’
For Peta Granger, director of national cosmetics chain Lush, the decision not to pass on the penalty rates cuts was “easy and immediate”.
And she got an almost immediate reaction from the public: “We saw a huge rise in footfall into our stores,” says Granger. “Customers into our stores after the announcement were up 65% on the same time last year, so that’s clearly had a huge impact on sales.”
The cosmetic company, which employees around 450 full-time and casual staff across 32 retail stores, has been through tough times recently: in 2011 when Granger came on board it was losing $5m a year and in danger of being closed by its British parent company.
Granger says it was the hard work and dedication of the staff that turned the business around and she couldn’t countenance the idea of cutting the rates once it returned to profit. “To reward them now with falling wages would have been a total betrayal of that relationship.”
She’s happy to speak up on the issue: “We want to encourage other employers to carefully consider the implications on their staff before making this choice and I think for us to cut people’s wages and to expect continued growth and engagement in this climate would have just been a silly business decision.”
The company is committed to retaining the penalty rates in the long term. “I cannot imagine a situation where we would consider cutting anyone’s wages,” says Granger.
Instead she is implementing what she describes as “a business model that shares the wealth and the profit with the people who generate them”, with generous profit-share bonus schemes.
“It’s only those models where everyone has an opportunity to thrive, that’s what creates what I think guarantees long-term growth and prosperity for the business, by making sure that everyone can thrive and is engaged and driven to make the business a success”.
Face to face … Phil Collins and the lichen-encrusted statue. Image Credit: Photograph by Matthew lloyd for the Guardian
by Charlotte Higgins
This month, the Berlin-based, British-born artist Phil Collins transported a 3.5 metre statue of Friedrich Engels from a village in eastern Ukraine, through Europe, to Britain on a flat-bed truck.
Next month, during the Manchester international festival, the sculpture, a 1970s concrete image of the bearded revolutionary, will be erected in Manchester, the city where he researched The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Engels lived in Manchester for more than two decades in the mid-19th century, honing his revolutionary philosophy through his observations of the horrific conditions endured by the working children, women and men in that cradle of industrial capitalism.
And, as Collins points out, though the philosopher’s life in Manchester is well studied and documented, there is no permanent marker to him in the city, no visual symbol of the man at all – despite the fact that his Manchester-forged thinking changed the course of 20th-century history.