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A century's labor

September 04, 2006

FOR MOST OF OUR 125-YEAR HISTORY, The Times has used Labor Day as an occasion to publish a blistering attack on labor unions. Not until the 1960s, when Publisher Otis Chandler led a shift in editorial philosophy, did The Times begin to take a more considerate, as well as more temperate, approach.

The venom and moral certitude of some of The Times' early editorials would make even the most partisan blogger blush. But these editorials are products of an age when struggles between workers and industrialists were prompting violent confrontations -- including at The Times, where in 1910 a bomb planted by union members killed 20 people.

During both world wars, the paper didn't hesitate to accuse unions of sabotaging the American war effort; in 1917, it went so far as to imply that union leaders were on the payroll of the Kaiser. If there were any question about where then-Publisher Harry Chandler stood in the contest between bosses and workers, consider the florid editorial from 1921, which out-Scrooges Ebenezer Scrooge by suggesting that Labor Day should live up to its name and be a day of grinding work.

Below are excerpts from a handful of past Labor Day editorials, concluding with a new entry. We hope you enjoy these fruits of our predecessors' labor.



Los Angeles saw fifteen carloads of The Times people booming through the streets yesterday with flags a-flutter, bands playing and mottoes speaking; and doubtless some observers wondered what it meant.

It was full of meaning and of purpose. It was a sane and wholesome celebration of Labor Day by people who work, and among its objects were these:

To bring in festive reunion a large and happy family, for the exchange of greetings and the renewing of pleasant relations on a day of cheer and merriment.

To afford an illustration of a fitting observation of Labor Day, without boozing, scandal, violence or appeals to the baser appetites, passions and prejudices.

To exalt the Star Spangled Banner above the totem, the inglorious badge of the labor-unionites, under which they debase the laws of the land....

There are better things than dissipation, license and lawlessness for a holiday: they are refinement, high-mindedness and decency. There is a greater than the so-called "union label:" It is the Flag.



Conditions, both locally and nationally, have changed somewhat during the past few years. A great many members of the unions hold their cards, not because they have any particular sympathy with the organization, but because they wish to earn a living at their trade without the risk of getting their heads laid open with a gas pipe. The rank and file of the unions are hard-working, honest fellows who do not want to strike unless the provocation is real and the chance for arbitration remote. But the potentates, the [Samuel] Gompers, [Olaf] Tveitmoes, [Charles] Moyers, [William Dudley] Haywoods and all the other rascals that find profit and prestige in strikes -- these sedulously agitate, give false information and make faithless promises, often working up a strike that is pulled off and maintained with the bludgeon. These scoundrels and traitors have done their worst to embarrass the nation while it is at war. They have planned for national strikes and have succeeded in calling many strikes in mine fields and in various other industries. If the truth were known it would probably be found that the Kaiser's gold has had something to do with this effort to create industrial trouble, while at the same time the traitors have endeavored to coerce all union members into keeping out of the army and navy.



There are rather unique possibilities in a "Labor Day." We have never tried one yet. The vogue for "days" has become highly popular, but always they are days dedicated to the pursuit of entertainment, days on which we see how much gasoline we can burn up, how much we can eat, how well we can dress, how much pleasure we can crowd in....

Yet Labor Day could be the most inspiring, constructive, progressive day in all the year, a day on which every one of us was exhorted and inspired to put forth the very best that is in us, to strive for new records of industry, production, achievement, a day upon which every individual of us set for themselves the perfection standard in our special task....

It takes no special imagination to conceive the national and patriotic rewards of such a day. That one day's records of achievement, production, the mobilizing of national effort to the common good, would bring so transplendent an illumination of possible attainment, so tangible an evidence of vast capacity that we should never again be satisfied with our second best, never again be satisfied with the mediocre level of just "getting by."



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