Open thread for night owls: ‘We mean business or no washing’—the Atlanta washerwomen strike of 1881

Open thread for night owls: ‘We mean business or no washing’—the Atlanta washerwomen strike of 1881

At The Progressive, Brandon Weber writes—‘We Mean Business or No Washing’: The Atlanta Washerwomen Strike of 1881:

In the 1880s, twenty years after the “official” end of slavery in the United States, African Americans continued to suffer extreme oppression and violence. Lynchings were common and “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws gave African Americans minimal access to schools, the military, and labor unions—the kinds of institutions that helped other Americans move toward prosperity

It was in this context that a group of African American washerwomen in Atlanta organized themselves to demand better wages and working conditions. “The Washing Society,” as they called themselves, struck in the summer of 1881, taking on the business and political establishment of Atlanta, Georgia. The action served to remind the city’s white majority whom they depended on for the clothes they wore. The strike—a group of black women organizing against omnipresent discrimination to demand recognition and respect for their work—stands out in union history as a most unlikely success.

At the time, almost all African American women wage earners were domestic workers in white homes. And more black women worked as laundresses than in any other type of domestic work. The city had more laundresses than male common laborers. Wealthy, middle class, and even poor whites used their services. Wages ranged from $4 to $8 a month, and the job included making one’s own soap and starch, and building wash tubs out of old beer barrels. It also included making rounds to the houses of clients to collect garments, haul water, and iron. And it went on seven days a week.

The Washing Society began with just twenty members, but soon grew into a much larger force. Seeking higher pay and more respect, the group called a strike, and the women began canvassing neighborhoods and churches to gather more supporters. The Washing Society even managed to get the two percent of washerwomen who were white to join. Their demands included $1 per twelve pounds of laundry, as well as some autonomy over their work and more respect from clients. In just three weeks, the group—and the strike—stood at 3,000 members. […]

The city buckled. It agreed the washerwomen could pay for a $25 annual licensing fee in exchange for higher rates and more autonomy. The washerwomen succeeded, and set a precedent for others. Shortly after the strike, Atlanta’s government also relented to demands from cooks, maids, hotel workers, and nurses for higher pay.

A bit more about the washerwomen here.



“Why, then, are we surprised that comets, such a rare spectacle in the universe, are not known, when their return is at vast intervals?. … The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject … And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them …. Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate.”
               ~Lucius Annaeus Seneca Naturales Quaestiones (62-64 CE)



On this date at Daily Kos in 2007—CSI: Federal Reserve:

Yesterday Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, stated that the US would be better off not imposing trade barriers.  In other news: water still wet. But there was something of a dry spot in Bernanke’s talk, a little cloud of unease scudding across the blue sky of the billions corporations are raking in.  

An economic mystery that worried the top money guy.

Income inequality has increased in the United States over the last three decades, Bernanke said. Income at the 90th percentile of wage earners ‚those close to the top—rose 34 percent between 1979 and 2006, while the wage at the 10th percentile rose a scant 4 percent in that period, he said.

The percentage of total income for the top 1% doubled over that period, going from 8% to 16%, and making it a larger portion of overall income than in any period this side of the Great Depression.  This inequity is becoming so severe, that the folks in charge of the economy are now worried that it’s making our economy inflexible and leading to instability.

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show: Sigh. Trump wants a parade. The hugest small government military parade in history. Shutdown chances reduced, but it’s not over. Greg Dworkin and Joan McCarter help survey the carnage. Hey, try the new RadioPublic player app! We might even get paid!

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