Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, a day that commemorates a number of significant events in history that occurred in March, including several associated with the labor movement in the United States. (For example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which over 140 female workers were killed, occurred on March 25, 1911.) In honor of International Women's Day, I've decided to describe briefly the contributions of one woman associated with the American labor movement, Mary Harris Jones (1830-1930).

One of the most important labor advocates in American history, "Mother Jones" began as an organizer for the Chicago chapter of the Knights of Labor in 1871 soon after losing all her possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. (Just four years earlier, Jones had lost her husband and four young children in a yellow fever epidemic in Tennessee.) From 1871 until the end of her life almost sixty years later, Jones was a part of every significant strike in the United States.

Jones was especially concerned with conditions in which coal miners were forced to worked. In fact, her work with the United Mine Workers earned her the nickname "the Miners' Angel." In 1898, Jones founded the Social Democratic Party. Seven years later, she helped to established the Industrial Workers of the World.

Jones liked to tell audiences, "I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser." She was indeed a hell-raiser, but she raised hell on behalf of those who were victims of economic exploitation.