Some of us, but clearly not enough of us, are enjoying a four-day work week this week. Labor Day gives us a needed breather: a chance to enjoy family on a last summer weekend; a chance to gear up for the final four months of the year.
However, the people who need Labor Day the most are often the ones who are denied this day of rest. Restaurant, retail, utility, health care workers and many more just do not catch a break.
Labor Day as a National Holiday has taken a back seat to the needs of commerce in too many instances. This loss for workers is also increasingly the case for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Independence Day.
There is particular irony, however, in labor losing the right to enjoy their own special, century-old holiday. Have we lost the spirit of Labor Day? Is there a way to get that spirit back?
Well, go ask your mother – Mother Jones, to be exact. Mother Jones is the famous woman who worked for the labor rights as (God forbid) a community organizer, activist and co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Born in Cork, Ireland, as Mary Harris Jones in 1837, she came to America and became a fighter and orator for workers rights. At age 60, she began to be referred to as Mother Jones and kept that monicker until her death in 1930. She may be gone, but you can certainly still visit with her.
Workers Education Society
One way to find the late, great Mary Harris Jones is to visit the Workers Education Society’s exhibit at 2929 S. Jefferson Ave. in St. Louis. The new display includes informational posters, a large paper cutout of the iconic labor activist, and a 24-minute video about her work and many accomplishments.
Jones was frequently arrested, jailed and tried in court for her labor work. A district attorney in West Virginia called her the “most dangerous woman in America” in court after her actions with the local United Mine Workers.
She is heralded in the 2003 book, “Kids on Strike,” for her work organizing the March of the Mill Children. Jones advocated for young girls in the Pennsylvania silk mills – girls who were exploited, robbed and “de-moralized,” according to Mother Jones.
Tours of the St. Louis exhibit can be made by contacting Workers Education Society President Tony Pecinovsky at tony@ workerseducationsociety.org.
Mt. Olive Museum
Another way to find the late, great Mary Harris Jones is to visit the Mother Jones Museum in Mt. Olive, Illinois. My wife and I took the long way home to St. Louis after a weekend at Pere Marquette – through Mt. Olive – on the recommendation of Ed Finkelstein of the St. Louis Labor Tribune.
In addition to the museum, Mt. Olive boasts the burial site of Mother Jones, an obelisk of 60 tons of pink granite with bronze statues of miners on either side of the 20-foot shaft.
The cemetery includes the graves of miners killed in the bloody disputes between Illinois coal mine operators and workers. Mother Jones said she wanted to be buried “with her boys” from the Virden Massacre in Illinois.
Mother Jones in Heaven
Yet another way to find the late, great Mary Harris Jones is to see the one-woman play, “Mother Jones in Heaven,” which has toured the country and is always on-stage somewhere. The play is highly recommended by Shannon Duffy, of the Media Guild in St. Louis.
Vivian Nesbit (Breaking Bad), who shares the Irish ancestry of Mother Jones, plays her hero in the on-stage productions around the country. The full, 80-minute show is being trimmed to an hour for airing on Fringe streaming.
In a review and story on an Asheville, North Calrolina production of “Mother Jones in Heaven,” Nesbit said: “She just burns with passion ... to bring her to the stage is a really interesting and terrifying thing to do. There’s plenty to be angry and militant about.”