Mother Jones’ legacy is as meaningful today as
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The Issue: Workers continue to fight for rights.
Our View: The struggle for the truth at the heart of our differences.
When one thinks of May Day, any of a number of images can come to mind. Some think of May baskets filled with flowers. Others think of dances around a May pole, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. In modern times, May Day has come to be associated with the labor rights movement and, in particular, Mother Jones.
Mary Harris was born in County Cork, Ireland. While there has been considerable confusion regarding her year and date of birth, with some accounts putting the year as 1830 and others claiming it to be in 1837. There’s also no clear record of the month and day on which she was born, which is why May 1 or May Day has become the day on which the labor leader is honored. There’s little debate, however, that a Mary Harris’ hard life helped create, perhaps, the most powerful labor leader of all time.
Harris fled Ireland’s potato famine to go, first, to Canada, then the United States. She met and married George Jones in Tennessee, where they started a family. After a yellow fever epidemic claimed the lives of her husband and children, Mary Harris Jones moved to Chicago where she worked as a dressmaker before losing everything in the great Chicago fire of 1871.
In the years following the fire, Jones began her involvement in the labor movement, coming particularly involved in the plight of coal mine workers. Jones fought in support of striking laborers, traveling from site to site, making speeches and supporting striking workers in any way she could. During these years, she became particularly involved in the plight of coal mine workers.
It was Jones’ tireless dedication to laborers and their rights that earned her the nickname “Mother.”
It’s not an accident Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is buried in Mt. Olive’s Union Miners Cemetery. She’s buried there at her request. Mother Jones is celebrated in Mt. Olive. In recent years, her monument and grave site have been restored and a museum has been opened in her honor. This year, in celebration of her 180th birthday (give or take), people gathered at her grave and placed a wreath. Museum tours, as well as roundtable discussions, were held in her honor. Mother Jones has not and will not be forgotten.
We live in a time national turmoil. Protests are a regular occurrence — women’s rights, civil rights and, yes, worker’s rights. Whether or not one believes fast food workers deserve $13, $14 or $15 per hour, the fact is there are many jobs that require skilled and/or educated labor that pay well below those hourly wages with few or no benefits.
While some say illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans, there are others who believe there are some industries that will suffer due to the lack of workers who have fled because of the threat of forced deportation.
It’s hard to know what the truth is in this era of “alternative facts” and alleged “fake news.” What is certain is labor issues are as much a factor in this country now as they were 100 years ago as more and more companies move some or all of their operations overseas to take advantage of cheap labor. On the other hand, there are claims that government rules and regulations are sending companies into bankruptcy when they can’t afford to keep up.
Perhaps today’s struggle is for the truth. It’s hard to know what’s real when our representatives care more about their parties than they do about the voters.