Friday, March 4, 2011

Different times

Posted By on Fri, Mar 4, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Labor leader J.J. Ettor and the striking barbers
  • Labor leader J.J. Ettor and the striking barbers.

Ever heard of the Brooklyn barbers strike of 1913?

I hadn't, until I stumbled upon the Wikipedia page of Joseph James Ettor, an early organizer in the Industrial Workers of the World. Ettor was one of the organizers of that strike as well as the NYC-wide waiters strike a year earlier.

According to this 1913 New York Times article, the barbers strike started in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, but spread quickly to the other boroughs. For a week, the 3,000 barber bosses in the city had to cut all that hair by themselves as their employees marched, struck, even rioted. At the peak of the strike, 10,000 barbers and other laborers marched in solidarity and rallied together in Union Square to listen to speeches given by IWW organizers, including Ettor.

The haircutter journeymen were demanding shorter work days and the recognition of their union, the Brooklyn Barbers' Union, Local 374. And in the end, the strikers won.

strike.png

So what's the point? I'm not sure, but with the attempts to bust the public-sector unions in Wisconsin, and the nationwide animus directed at teachers' unions (which is playing itself out in District 11's showdown), it's interesting to remember that our country once embraced the principles of organizing to the degree that it drove waiters and barbers out into the streets.

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