Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Right-To-Work Is Wrong -OR- 16 Tons

From the autobiography of Oscar Neebe 1850-1916

One day my boss told me: "Oscar, I have a good situation for you where they manufacture milk cans. You can make more there than what I can pay you for work you can do. I can get along with a boy and I cannot pay you what you are worth. You can commence Monday." On his recommendation I started to work the next Monday. It was a new place. A new patent milk can. In a short time the business increased and there were fourteen workmen. We could make each from 25 to 30 cans a week, but some of the workmen were too greedy; that was not enough. They worked harder and made from 35 to 40 cans a week, and that was too much to pay a week, $35 to $40, to a workman by the company who worked said patent can, the price was reduced to 75 cents apiece, but the selling price was increased from $6 to $7 apiece. . Now the workmen worked to their utmost strength, so as to make the same wages as before, and I told them they would, by doing so, reduce the price of wages furthermore. A short time after that the price was reduced to 65 cents apiece. A friend of mine, Barny Collins and I were appointed a committee to consult the company and let them know that the workmen would not make a can for that price. Collins and I went to Mr. Sheppard and laid the resolution of the workmen before him. He laughed, and offered to bet that the others would work for 65 cents. We told him no. He offered us two, as we were his oldest and best hands, to give us 75 cents. We told him we and our comrades would not do so, would rather stop than to make those cans less than 75 cents; he went to one of the workmen and asked if he would rather stop than to make the cans for 65 cents. He said Yes, if the others would, he would, of course. Through their cowardice and breaking their word, Collins and I left. It was the first time I saw skilled workmen, who were wanted and needed, back down. It was in 1871. I heard later that the price was reduced to 45 cents. Mr. Sheppard got to be a wealthy man and his workmen poorer and poorer through the cowardice of the workman.

I commenced work in another factory where they made oil cans and tea-caddies. That was the first place where I saw children from 8 to 12 years old work like slaves, working on machines; most every day it happened that a finger or hand was cut off, but what did it matter, they were paid off and sent home, and others would take their places. I believed that children working in factories has for the last twenty years made more cripples than the war with the south, and the cut off fingers and mangled bodies brought gold to the monopolies and manufacturers. How often has the sweat of a poor man or child paid for the silk dress of a kept woman of these men, whose only desire is "to have lots of fun and a good time.

It's taken 100 years to get back to where we started? Who are the pushers of right-to-work, killing Health Care, demonizing teachers and perpetuating conflict appealing to to elevate their chosen candidates into positions of power and control? You and me? They're going to act in MY best interests?

I know exactly how Mr. Neebe felt.


Suzan said...


Thanks, I needed that kick in the behind today.

Love ya,


amber ladeira said...

I'm appreciating your historical eloquence.

Sadly, Illinois is still a
"Right to Work State" (Otherwise known as "Fire at Will"). Human nature/reality really doesn't often change: there are the brave, they are few; there are the needy, they are many; there are the greedy, they are too many....
thereby hangs the tale.

My hope is that there will be a
significant enough positive change in the numerical ratios of these groups to effect some fairness in our messed-up process.

Best Wishes, A.