I was reminded today of a seemingly ancient ad campaign called NINA- No Irish Need Apply.
I’m not going to complain about my jobs (yes- two! See my previous entry for clarification on this) on Labor Day, partially because I like my jobs and partially because I don’t want to sound like an ungrateful asshole when so many people in both the US and Éire are out of work; however, I could really use a nice vacation. But I digress.
NINA was a method that has been used to oppress Hibernians on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas the Hibers in Europe were obviously oppressed by the British, Bogs in the States, particularly New York (I can really only speak to New York– I apologize for the lack of details) by other immigrant groups who came before them, leading the Irish-Americans to adopt cultural traits from other ethnic groups (e.g. In areas of New York City that were predominantly Jewish, Irish-Americans were often left with few food choices, hence the adoption of corned beef and cabbage as a staple meal). Irish Catholics were, to the best of my knowledge, singled out more so than Irish-Americans of other religious group who emigrated decades prior, often being portrayed as alcoholic degenerates and mafia-wannabes, leaving their beautifully green island in hopes of finally finding work to support all twelve of their children, only to face the same– if not worse– racism on the shores of the Big Apple.
I suppose that one such benefit of the apartheid against the Irish that they were able to find refuge in occupations such as construction, police, firefighters, and teachers– all of which generally are entitled to the benefits and protections of Labor Unions. Hence the celebration of Labor Day!
I, personally, was able to enjoy such benefits, as my father was a New York City detective. I always had great healthcare, which was great because I always got sick.
Despite our initially being segregated from the rest of the population and forced into ghettos, Irish-Americans eventually became a part of the mainstream workforce. Even beyond the cliched Irish-American professions such as the Police force or the Fire Department, Irish-Americans became a part of union labor in professions as diverse as the automotive industry, coal mining, steel mills and teachers. Along with our non-Irish labor brothers and sisters, we have struggled for such victories as the five-day work week, the eight-hour work day, minimum wage.
Irish-American women were often the most exploited in the labor force. In the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 146 — mainly Irish– women textile workers were killed in a fire caused by the negligence of the owners of the factory. However, the workers fought back and formed the The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, once one of the largest labor unions in the country. These mainly Irish-American women fought for better work conditions in sweat shops and for better fire safety standards.
With the recent fall of the financial market and many private industries, working class Irish-Americans and their class brothers and sisters are facing the brunt of the current crisis. However, in times like these, it is important to remember the history of struggle that has produced tangible results.