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A nation's success story, built by hand

Monday, September 02, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

Earning a living has always been tough -- at least for most of us. Some of the toughest times came during the early industrialization of America, as jobs moved from farms to factories.

The Mohawk Valley was very much a part of that transitional period. Amsterdam is not called a mill town without reason. The staggering changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution were felt here as they were elsewhere. The United States was transformed from a nation of independent farmers and artisans to a nation of factory workers in a relatively short time.

Those providing the labor found it had its drawbacks and its rewards. Such major shifts in history often take a toll; yet it is hard to see how the evolution to a complex labor force could have been avoided.

Caught in a tide they didn't fully understand, the working class nonetheless helped build a strong America. Workers paid a high price. One of the outgrowths of dark and dangerous industrial plants was the labor movement -- an attempt by working people to protect themselves from exploitation.

There is a story about an ironworks executive in Troy being asked whether the brutal heat of the foundry would hurt the workers' brains. He replied that if they had any brains, they wouldn't be working there in the first place.

Labor unions were formed to combat such attitudes and conditions, and over the years achieved some momentous successes -- health benefits, the eight-hour day, pensions -- that were viewed as radical when they were first suggested.

The once-powerful labor movement today finds itself at a crossroads -- battered by scandals of its own making; often long on politics and short on principle. American labor faces new challenges from international competition while still fighting some of the old, unresolved battles at home. Much has changed. Some things haven't.

Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1894 after years of lobbying and political pressure by the Knights of Labor. On this Labor Day, we recognize the workers who helped build America's industrial strength to a point that it was the envy of the world. And we honor those who continue the job.

     

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