A Great Film for a Labor Day Weekend

 

Probably the most powerful sermon ever placed on film, Father Barry speaks of Christ and his crucifixion on the docks.  The best performance Karl Malden ever gave.  Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront  (1954) was also his response to the criticism he received for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.

The character of Father Barry was based on the actual work on the docks of a hardbitten Irish-Catholic Jesuit Priest, Father John Corridan.  From 1946-1957 he waged a one man crusade in New York against the gangsters who controlled the International Longshoreman’s Association.  One of the bosses who controlled the union was “Tough” Tony Anastasia,  a brother of Albert “The Madhatter” Anastasia, one of the former bosses of Murder, Inc.

In the face of these murderers, Father Corridan, son of a New York cop who had died when Corridan was nine, was completely fearless.  Teaching longshoremen Christian principles in labor\management relations at the Saint Francis Xavier Labor School, Father Corridan faced down a union thug sent to disrupt his class:  “If anything happens to the men I’m trying to help here, I’ll know who’s responsible, and I’ll personally see to it that they are broken throughout this port. They’ll pay and I’ll see that they pay.”

Father Corridan compiled information which eventually filled sixteen filing cabinets on the mobsters who controlled the ports and who made life miserable for honest longshoremen.  He shared this information freely with reporters, including Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun who won a Pulitzer for his series in 1948 on “Crime on the Waterfront”.  Father Corridan realized the pressure that could be exerted on the mob and the crooked politicians who protected the mob by such stories, and he used every opportunity to expose them in the press.  He wrote scorching articles himself for America and other publications.  Gradually the public began to become aware of the problem of mob domination of the docks.

A turning point came in 1951 when a faction of the longshoremen rejected a union negotiated contract and went on a wildcat strike.  Father Corridan supported them to the hilt.  The strike shut down ports in New York and New Jersey for twenty-five days.  To refute a claim by the mob dominated union that the strikers were communists, Father Corridan held a public prayer service with the strikers.  He also successfully pressured Governor Dewey of New York to address the issue of mob control of the docks.

Father Barry in the movie had his sermon on the docks.  Father Corridan preached many of them and one of them had this memorable statement:  “I suppose some people would smirk at the thought of Christ in the shape-up. It is about as absurd as the fact that He carried carpenter’s tools in His hands and earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. As absurd as the fact that Christ redeemed all men irrespective of their race, color, or station in life. It can be absurd only to those of whom Christ has said, ‘Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not.’ Because they don’t want to see or hear. Christ also said, ‘If you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me.’ So Christ is in the shape-up.”

The shape up was the system by which the mob completely controlled which longshoremen would work and which would not.  Father Corridan succeeded in having the shape up banned by the time that he left the docks in 1957, and a New York\New Jersey commission was in place to regulate the harbors.

Father Corridan went on to teach economics at LeMoyne College in Syracuse , theology at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City and was a hospital chaplain in Brooklyn until his death at 73 in 1984.  It is said of Father Corridan that he could swear like a longshoreman himself at the sight of injustice.  If true, then I imagine his language is pure in his final abode.

Published in: on September 6, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on A Great Film for a Labor Day Weekend  
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1894 First Federal Labor Day

 

The late nineteenth century was a time of labor unrest in the United States and in much of the Western world.  A holiday to honor workers had been recognized in many states.  In 1894 legislation was rushed through Congress creating a national labor day holiday on the first Monday in September.  This was a small step in separating the American labor movement from socialist and proto-Communist movements with their May Day observations.  Ironically, Cleveland signed the legislation on June 28, 1894 in the wake of the violent, on both sides, national Pullman strike which would take several lives.  A nervous Congress passed the legislation in six days, which is close to a miracle of swiftness where Congress is concerned.  The new holiday quickly became a hit, with picnic lunches and ball games featuring a farewell to Summer.  Americans have a genius for taking events that initially divided them, the Declaration of Independence for example, and turning them into celebrations enjoyed by all, and Labor Day, now as American as all the hot dogs and apple pie consumed during Labor Day weekend, is part of that tradition. (more…)

Published in: on September 5, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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The Yorktown, the American Worker and Three Days

We must have this ship back in three days!

Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz

On Labor Day we honor the American worker and the repair of the USS Yorktown tells us why.  Badly damaged at the battle of the Coral Sea, it was estimated that the Yorktown would take three months in drydock to repair.  That was unacceptable.  With the battle of Midway looming the Yorktown had to be gotten back into action if the US was to have any chance at all against the Japanese fleet with its heavy advantage in flattops.

What happened next was a true miracle.  1400 civilian dockyard workers and sailors swarmed over the Yorktown, working night and day for 72 hours.  Hawaii Electric staged rolling blackouts in Honolulu to generate the enormous power necessary for the mammoth repairs.  The Yorktown sailed for Midway on May 30, 1942 with civilian workers still on board, completing the repairs.  At Midway, four days later, Yorktown’s role in the victory was absolutely crucial,  her planes sending the Japanese carrier Soryu to the bottom before the Yorktown herself was sunk. (more…)

Published in: on September 7, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Yorktown, the American Worker and Three Days  
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On the Waterfront

 

Something for the weekend.  Symphonic suite from On the Waterfront (1954).

Published in: on August 31, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on On the Waterfront  
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September 7, 1903: Labor Day Speech by Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

In speaking on Labor Day at the annual fair of the New York State Agricultural Association, it is natural to keep especially in mind the two bodies who compose the majority of our people and upon whose welfare depends the welfare of the entire State. If circumstances are such that thrift, energy, industry, and forethought enable the farmer, the tiller of the soil, on the one hand, and the wage-worker on the other, to keep themselves, their wives, and their children in reasonable comfort, then the State is well off, and we can be assured that the other classes in the community will likewise prosper. On the other hand, if there is in the long run a lack of prosperity among the two classes named, then all other prosperity is sure to be more seeming than real.

It has been our profound good fortune as a nation that hitherto, disregarding exceptional periods of depression and the normal and inevitable fluctuations, there has been on the whole from the beginning of our government to the present day a progressive betterment alike in the condition of the tiller of the soil and in the condition of the man who, by his manual skill and labor, supports himself and his family, and endeavors to bring up his children so that they may be at least as well off as, and, if possible, better off than, he himself has been. There are, of course, exceptions, but as a whole the standard of living among the farmers of our country has risen from generation to generation, and the wealth represented on the farms has steadily increased, while the wages of labor have likewise risen, both as regards the actual money paid and as regards the purchasing power which that money represents.

Side by side with this increase in the prosperity of the wage-worker and the tiller of the soil has gone on a great increase in prosperity among the business men and among certain classes of professional men; and the prosperity of these men has been partly the cause and partly the consequence of the prosperity of farmer and wage-worker. It cannot be too often repeated that in this country, in the long run, we all of us tend to go up or go down together. If the average of well-being is high, it means that the average wage-worker, the average farmer, and the average business man are all alike well-off. If the average shrinks, there is not one of these classes which will not feel the shrinkage. Of course, there are always some men who are not affected by good times, just as there are some men who are not affected by bad times. But speaking broadly, it is true that if prosperity comes, all of us tend to share more or less therein, and that if adversity comes each of us, to a greater or less extent, feels the tension.

Unfortunately, in this world the innocent frequently find themselves obliged to pay some of the penalty for the misdeeds of the guilty; and so if hard times come, whether they be due to our own fault or to our misfortune, whether they be due to some burst of speculative frenzy that has caused a portion of the business world to lose its head -a loss which no legislation can possibly supply- or whether they be due to any lack of wisdom in a portion of the world of labor–in each case, the trouble once started is felt more or less in every walk of life. (more…)

Published in: on September 3, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Heave Ho My Lads

 

Something for the weekend.  Heave Ho My Lads sung by cadets of the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Labor Day weekend seems a fitting time to recall again the United States Merchant Marine.  The civilian fleet that carries imports and exports to and from the US, during war time it becomes an auxiliary of the Navy to ship troops and war supplies.  Officers of the Merchant Marine are trained at the Merchant Marine Academy, founded in 1943, at King’s Point, New York.

Technically civilians, one out of 26 merchant mariners died in action during World War II, giving them a higher fatality rate than any of the armed services.   Members of the Merchant Marine were often jeered  as slackers and draft dodgers by civilians when they were back on shore who had no comprehension of the vital role they played, or how hazardous their jobs were.  Incredibly, these gallant men were denied veteran status and any veteran benefits because they were civilians.  This injustice was not corrected until 1988 when President Reagan signed the Merchant Marine Fairness Act.  Some 9,521 United States Merchant Mariners were killed during World War II, performing their duty of keeping the sea lanes functioning in war, as in peace. (more…)

Published in: on September 2, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Heave Ho My Lads  
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Rosie the Riveter

Something for a Labor Day weekend.  Rosie the Riveteer.  Written in 1942 the song celebrated the fact that with some sixteen million American men being called into military service, American women were going to have to pick up the slack if America was to win the battle of production, the decisive battle of World War II.  Women, especially young women, were absolutely critical in this task.  In 1944 1.7 million unmarried men were involved in war production, compared to 4.1 million women.  The war of the factories was won for the US by middle aged married men, many of them World War I veterans, and young women, many of them daughters of the older men they labored beside.  Below is a film, Women on the Warpath, made in 1943 by Ford honoring the women involved in assembling B-24 bombers at the Willow Run bomber plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan. (more…)

Published in: on September 3, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Rosie the Riveter  
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A Great Victory Courtesy of the American Worker

 

Seventy years ago American industry was converting from wartime to peacetime production.  American workers during the War had performed a miracle.  The figures of the items produced are absolutely stunning.

During the War the US produced 324,000 military planes, 102,410 tanks, 2,382,311 other vehicles, 257,390 pieces of artillery, 105,055 mortars, 2,679,840 machine guns, 124 carriers, 8 battleships, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 245 submarines, and 35,000 landing craft.  These figures only scratch the surface as the US also had to produce the tens of thousands of categories of other items, ranging from uniforms to Liberty transport ships, without which American, and Allied, forces would have ground to a halt. (more…)

Published in: on September 7, 2015 at 4:50 am  Comments (8)  
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Saint Joseph the Worker and Dad

Saint Joseph and Jesus

 

(Originally posted at The American Catholic.  I thought that my friends at Almost Chosen People might enjoy reading it.)

 

Every Labor Day weekend two men always pop up in my mind:  Saint Joseph the Worker and my Dad.  When I was growing up I always associated Saint Joseph and my father.  I thought of Saint Joseph as the strong, silent type.  The Gospels recall no speeches or quotes of Saint Joseph, but it does remember his actions:  the refusal to expose Mary publicly when he initially assumed that she had betrayed him, his leading his family into Egypt on the warning of the Angel, the years of Christ’s growth to manhood when Saint Joseph labored to support his family.  That was my father, a man of actions and not words.  My father was not a talkative man, he simply was always there when anything needed to be done.  From going off each day to cut steel in the truck body plant where he worked, to repairing broken items around the house, to fixing a furnace for an old widow who couldn’t pay a professional to come to fix it and then asking my mom to buy the widow a sack of groceries because he saw she had no food in her house, to defending me from a child hood bully, I grew up under the protection and inspiration of my silent father.

I always assumed that Christ watched Saint Joseph as he went about his duties as a carpenter and helped him.  One of my fondest memories of my father is him coming home dead tired from a long day in the factory, and then working late into the evening on a model car that I was racing in my cub scout troop that year.  Dad was a first rate shade tree carpenter and mechanic.  Dad attempted to pass these skills on to me, alas without much success, but watching him use tools skillfully has caused me to always appreciate the craftsmanship and patience behind someone who can use his hands to create and make things work.

Dad was no plaster saint.  He enjoyed a beer now and then, and a joke and woe betide anyone who came between him and his paper each evening.  For a man who never graduated from high school he had a keen intelligence as indicated by the crossword puzzles he effortlessly completed along with cryptograms in the local newspaper.  Dad also enjoyed sketching and probably would have made a pretty fair artist.  He would often play on the guitar, with mixed results, or so my brother and I would tell him!  Dad would simply smile and continue on playing.  After his death I was startled to learn that as a young man my father had written a song.  I have always suspected that there were interesting facets of Saint Joseph that the Gospels failed to relate, just like the aspects of my quiet father that the world at large remained oblivious of. (more…)

Published in: on September 2, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Saint Joseph the Worker and Dad  
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A Prayer to Saint Joseph

Something for the weekend.  The video above supplying music and images to the prayer to Saint Joseph seemed very appropriate for a Labor Day Weekend.  There was a reason why God chose as His guardian and the husband of His mother a humble carpenter, instead of some great and powerful king.  God does not see as we see.  We judge too often by outward appearance while God judges by the soul and character.  A simple concept one would think, but one that is hard to live by as we too often judge people by their jobs or clothes or any of the other superficial differences between us that loom so large on this earth and which are less than nothing in eternity.

Published in: on September 1, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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