Time for a Little Class Warfare (music & pix)

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This is a followup to my diary on Post Office Murals in the New Deal.  

Lewis Hine was a great photographer, and also an intrepid social activist.  Amongst his most famous works are pictures of child laborers in the early part of the 20th century, for the National Child Labor Committee.  The black and white slides with this music are mostly all by Hine.

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

You could call this “undercover” work, because he did it on the sly.  Needless to say, the bosses didn’t like him coming around.  Someone did a nifty history project tracking down the life of this girl, Addie Card.  

Her lack of shoes in the workplace, whether factory or field, was far from unusual.  And hardly safe:

Hine also did portraits of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, with the intention of countering anti-immigrant sentiment.  And he did a glorious series on the construction of the Empire State building, photographed from the high iron:

He did some work for the Tennessee Valley Authority during the New Deal, too, documenting a CCC crew doing reforestation associated with TVA dam construction.  I intend to do some more diaries in this series, and we’ll probably be seeing Lewis Hine again.  This child labor picture is of an oyster-shucking operation.  Quite a few of the kids who did this work lost fingers in the process.


As the debate over the “stimulus” bill – and why are the media using the Republican label rather than the name of the bill, “recovery” – heats up, we’re hearing a lot of talk about what constitutes real economic stimulus.  I take the New Deal as a model of economic stimulus, spurred on by mass movements and militant actions like the Flint sit-down strike.  I know the pundits, like George Stephanopoulus this past weekend, are increasingly putting out the bogus, cynical argument that the New Deal didn’t really work.  The products of the WPA and other New Deal agencies are still loved and appreciated today.  

My new Congressman, Ben Ray Luj├ín, grew up in a political family.  At one of the many small village meetings he had with constituents during the election season, there was a discussion of whether incrementalism or paradigm shift was needed.  He argued for a new New Deal, saying that it was the reason New Mexico is a Democratic state, almost continuously to the present day.  (He supports single payer on health, for example.)


Another phrase in heavy rotation on the news these days is “shovel-ready”.  As if the only legitimate budget items for economic recovery involve shovels.  And, BTW, wasn’t that resodding of the National Mall a “shovel-ready” project that would put people to work?

In my picture research on the New Deal, I found a surprising amount of recreational activities.  And a lot of them involved children, in stark contrast to what Lewis Hine had documented a scant generation earlier.  So, aside from shovel-related projects (of which there were plenty), here’s some pictures of WPA activities for kids.  The pictures above are a cranberry picker by Hine, and the dancers are from a Harlem WPA program for kids.

Here’s some more pictures of New Deal activities and facilities for kids.  First off, there were summer camps.  Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) would blow a gasket at the notion that roasting marshmallows has any place in economic recovery:

There were WPA projects to make ski slopes, bobsled runs, and ice skating rinks:

The President, FDR himself, stopped in sometimes.  In this case to a program where boys were building model boats:

Some of ’em, the older ones, made real boats:

I don’t feel like making commentary for each picture.  They can speak for themselves, in contrast to the brutal childhoods Lewis Hine documented.  These are all from New Deal (mostly WPA) programs or projects:

Racial/ethnic segregation seems to be the rule rather than the exception.  And I have yet to encounter any projects in Indian Country.

Children’s theater, which sometimes was just the program, but sometimes included building the venue, too:

Soap box derby:

These kids, in New York, are making a newspaper under the auspices of the WPA’s Federal Writer’s Program.

These boys get out a newspaper at the Goddard Neighborhood Center in New York City. Their work is supervised by a member of the staff of the Federal Writer’s Project. Individual style is encouraged but spelling and other errors of English are corrected.

This is better than a world where small children worked long days for but minuscule pay, at jobs like selling newspapers they were unable to read themselves.  Lewis Hine again:

There’s important things at stake.  Like Rep. Barney Frank says, there’s things that tax cuts ain’t ever gonna do.  Our economic recovery will require all manner of activities and projects.  Many, but by no means all of ’em, involving shovels.  The modern day scrooges, those Republicans with hearts of stone, can’t be allowed to call the shots any more.


Bread & Roses (New Deal TRAP Murals)


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  1. I’m not sure I can come up with the right adjectives for your effort — I will simply say that this is a most excellent compilation of a bit of our history.  I think, at least, hope, that everyone realizes that we must pick up the “shovel” once again.  Why?  Because the “devils” smite us down.  Why aren’t’ they paying the price for all of this?  Because, just ask them, they are the elite, the entitled monied Republicans!  

    Until and unless Americans get smart enough to ignore, not listen to these “evildoers” (Repugs), and tune them out in every conceivable way, we will experience more of what we have undergone the past eight years.  The choice is really an “American” one!!

    Thank you for this, LoE — very well done!

  2. And just a reminder, there are thousands of kids today who might not be doing hard labor, but are every bit as forgotten as those who were captured by Hine in his day. I’m just imagining them in some of those New Deal photos. And you’re right – tax cuts won’t do a thing for them!

    • RUKind on February 4, 2009 at 05:10

    My father was in the CCC out in the Rockies in a forestry program for adolescent men. Part of their pay went straight back to Boston for the family.

    What we really need are keyboard ready projects in addition to the shovel ready.

    One thing about those pictures – in most of the world today those would be healthy working conditions for child labor. It’s good to reflect every now and then on how good we have it. It’s always good to reflect on how much better we can make it be.

  3. There’s a wonderfully illustrated book by Otto Bettman, called “The Good Old Days – They were Terrible” which contains many of these photos.

    He makes the point that rather than feel nostalgic about the past, we should be happy the past is PAST!

    I have used the book to create a web page designed to make the point that we might still be in that PAST, had it not been for the triumphs of many liberals who fought against those who would have liked to PRESERVE things the way they were, i.s. conservatives who are always fighting to prevent liberals from improving life for the great majority of us, and especially the neediest among us.

    See LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/liberalrecord.html.

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