Plain Press, November 2015 In honor of Max Hayes, a 20th Century champion of labor, democracy and social welfare, the Labor Education and Arts Project sponsored a commemoration in his memory on October 17th at the newly opened Max Hayes High School. North Shore Federation of Labor endorsed the event, the 2nd Northeast Ohio LaborFest 2015.
2nd Northeast Ohio LaborFest 2015 featured a number of speakers on labor history as well as a discussion of how the 1912 campaign to expand and strengthen democracy in Ohio, championed by Max Hayes through the Cleveland Citizen labor newspaper, has lessons for a modern day political strategy.
The Labor Education and Arts Project, organizers of the LaborFest, noted the important role that Max Hayes, editor and founder of the labor newspaper, the Cleveland Citizen, played in the history of the City of Cleveland and the State of Ohio. In promoting the event the Labor Education and Arts Project said, “With a mission to ‘advance the cause of a politically active, aggressive labor movement,’ the Citizen was in the forefront of a statewide campaign to amend the 1912 Ohio State Constitution. This landmark campaign proposed that Ohio voters consider 42 labor-endorsed issues for amendment to the Constitution including, a minimum wage, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, workman’s compensation, eight-hour day, recall of elected officials, and the direct democracy of the initiative and referendum. Thirty-four of the forty-two proposed amendments were ratified by Ohio voters and incorporated into the Constitution.”
Featured speakers include Professor Michael Pierce, author of Striking with the Ballot: Ohio Labor and the Populist Party; Mary Triece, Professor of Communications at the University of Akron, Steven Steinglass, Dean Emeritus, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law; and David Goldberg, Professor Emeritus, Cleveland State University.
Michael Pierce talked about the role that Martin Foran, a cooper (barrel maker) by trade, played in the birth of the Cleveland labor movement. Pierce explained that Foran, a journeyman cooper, helped lead a strike against the master coopers in 1869 when they tried to lower the wages of the journeymen that worked for them. Following the initial organizing efforts it became apparent that Cleveland coopers would be competing with coopers with lower wages in Akron and Western Pennsylvania – this led to the organizing of an international union of coopers.
Pierce also described Foran venture into organizing Labor as a political force in Ohio. Foran was elected to serve on the 1872 State Constitutional Convention and used that platform to amend the Ohio constitution to ban child labor – restricting companies with more than eight employees from hiring youths under the age of 16. Pierce says that labor had good representation in the State Legislature with 3 or 4 union members serving in the 1870s and into the 1880s. He said they were successful in passing legislation such as the 8-hour day and inspection laws for workplace safety. However, Pierce noted that Cleveland Labor movement was decimated by the six-year depression that followed the Panic of 1873. The unions lost their bargaining power with so many people out of work in the depression.
Mary Triece, Professor of Communications at the University of Akron, talked about the role of women in the labor movement in the early 1900s. She talked about organizing women in the garment industry in New York City and the efforts of women to work as conductorettes from 1917 to 1919 during World War I on the Cleveland street car lines. She noted that part of the movement to gain the vote for women was an effort to end sweatshops for women.
Steven Steinglass, Dean Emeritus of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, offered a history of Constitutional Conventions in Ohio which led up to the Constitutional Convention of 1912 and labor’s historic role in getting 34 of their 42 proposed constitutional amendments approved by voters in a statewide vote. Steinglass noted that some of the amendments passed have to do with direct democracy in Ohio such as the initiative and referendum. Some issues that did not passed, but were supported by labor were women’s suffrage and a ban on capital punishment.
David Goldberg, Professor Emeritus at Cleveland State University, gave a brief account of the life of Max Hayes. Goldberg noted that Hayes was a self-educated member of the International Typographical Union. He became politically active in the Franklin Club in Cleveland a group of activist that engaged in political issues in the 1890s. In 1891, he founded the Cleveland Citizen, which today is Cleveland’s oldest labor newspaper. Goldberg noted that Hayes was the voice of the Socialist in the Labor movement in Cleveland. Goldberg described the Constitutional Convention of 1912 as the “highlight of the career” of Max Hayes with all 42 of the labor’s proposals making it to the ballot for voters to consider.
Following a luncheon, there was some discussion about how the legacy of the 1912 campaign to expand and strengthen democracy can be reconsidered for present-day political strategy. To that purpose, proponents addressed the assembly in behalf of such issues as: Medicare for All, union recognition for adjunct faculty, against mass incarceration, and for abolition of capital punishment.
There was also a debate on Issue Two – an issue on the statewide ballot. Both sides in the debate were represented. Representatives of the American Friends Service Committee and the Single Payer Action Network Ohio said the passage of the issue would hurt future efforts to pass citizen initiatives on a statewide ballot. Professor Steinglass argued there were other ways to pass issues on a statewide ballot and that Issue 2 would prevent the Ohio Constitution from being cluttered by interests of powerful state monopolies such as the casinos and marijuana growers.