Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

July 22
Newly unionized brewery workers in San Francisco, mostly German socialists, declare victory after the city’s breweries give in to their demands for free beer, the closed shop, freedom to live anywhere (they had typically been required to live in the breweries), a 10-hour day, 6-day week, and a board of arbitration – 1886
(From First Contact to First Contract: A Union Organizer’s Handbook is a no-nonsense tool from veteran labor organizer and educator Bill Barry. He looks to his own vast experience to document and help organizers through all the stages of a unionization campaign, from how to get it off the ground to how to bring it home with a signed contract and a strong bargaining unit.)

A bomb was set off during a “Preparedness Day” parade in San Francisco, killing 10 and injuring 40 more. Tom Mooney, a labor organizer, and Warren Billings, a shoe worker, were convicted of the crime, but both were pardoned 23 years later – 1916

July 23
Anarchist Alexander Berkman shoots and stabs but fails to kill steel magnate Henry Clay Frick in an effort to avenge the Homestead massacre 18 days earlier, in which nine strikers were killed. Berkman also tried to use what was, in effect, a suicide bomb, but it didn’t detonate – 1892

Northern Michigan copper miners strike for union recognition, higher wages and 8-hour day. By the time they threw in the towel the following April, 1,100 had been arrested on various charges and Western Federation of Miners President Charles Moyer had been shot, beaten and forced out of town – 1913

Aluminum Workers Int’l Union merges with The United Brick & Clay Workers of America to form Aluminum, Brick & Clay Workers – 1981

July 24
The United Auto Workers and the Teamsters form the Alliance for Labor Action (ALA), later to be joined by several smaller unions. The ALA’s agenda included support of the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam. It disbanded after four years following the death of UAW President Walter Reuther – 1968
(All Labor Has Dignity: People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform.)

The U.S. minimum wage increased to $6.55 per hour today. The original minimum, set in 1938 by the Fair Labor Standards Act, was 25¢ per hour – 2008

U.S. minimum wage rose to $7.25 per hour, up from $6.55 – 2009
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Today in Labor History: July 21

Local militiamen are called out against striking railroad workers in Pittsburgh. The head of the Pennsylvania Railroad advises giving the strikers “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread.” – 1877

Compressed air explosion kills 20 workers constructing railroad tunnel under the Hudson River – 1880

IWW leads a strike at Hodgeman’s Blueberry Farm in Grand Junction, Mich. – 1964

Radio station WCFL, owned and operated by the Chicago Federation of Labor, takes to the airwaves with two hours of music. The first and only labor-owned radio station in the country, WCFL was sold in 1979 – 1926

A die-cast operator in Jackson, Mich., is pinned by a hydraulic Unimate robot, dies five days later. Incident is the first documented case in the U.S. of a robot killing a human – 1984
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Today in Labor History: July 20

New York City newsboys, many so poor that they were sleeping in the streets, begin a 2-week strike. Several rallies drew more than 5,000 newsboys, complete with charismatic speeches by strike leader Kid Blink, who was blind in one eye. The boys had to pay publishers up front for the newspapers; they were successful in forcing the publishers to buy back unsold papers – 1899
(Kids at Work: Your heart will be broken by this exceptional book’s photographs of children at backbreaking, often life-threatening work, and the accompanying commentary by author Russell Freedman. Photographer Lewis Hine—who himself died in poverty in 1940—did as much, and perhaps more, than any social critic in the early part of the 20th century to expose the abuse of children, as young as three and four, by American capitalism.)

Two killed, 67 wounded in Minneapolis truckers’ strike—”Bloody Friday” – 1934

Postal unions, Postal Service sign first labor contract in the history of the federal government—the year following an unauthorized strike by 200,000 postal workers – 1971
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Today in Labor History: July 19

Women’s Rights Convention opens in Seneca Falls, N.Y.  Delegates adopt a Declaration of Women’s Rights
and call for women’s suffrage – 1848

An amendment to the 1939 Hatch Act, a federal law whose main provision prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity, is amended to also cover state and local employees whose salaries include any federal funds – 1940
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Today in Labor History: July 18

The Brotherhood of Telegraphers begins an unsuccessful 3-week strike against the Western Union Telegraph Co. – 1883

Some 35,000 Chicago stockyard workers strike – 1919

Hospital workers win 113-day union recognition strike in Charleston, S.C. – 1969
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Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

July 15
Some 50,000 lumberjacks strike for 8-hour day – 1917

Ralph Gray, an African-American sharecropper and leader of the Share Croppers Union, is murdered in Camp Hill, Ala. – 1931

A half-million steelworkers begin what is to become a 116-day strike that shutters nearly every steel mill in the country. Management wanted to dump contract language limiting its ability to change the number of workers assigned to a task or to introduce new work rules or machinery that would result in reduced hours or fewer employees – 1959
(There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America: This sympathetic, thoughtful and highly readable history of the American labor movement traces unionism from the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1820s to organized labor’s decline in the 1980s and struggle for survival and growth today.)

July 16
Ten thousand workers strike Chicago’s Int’l Harvester operations – 1919

Martial law declared in strike by longshoremen in Galveston, Texas – 1920

San Francisco Longshoremen’s strike spreads, becomes 4-day general strike – 1934

July 17
Two ammunition ships explode at Port Chicago, Calif., killing 322, including 202 African-Americans assigned by the Navy to handle explosives. It was the worst home-front disaster of World War II. The resulting refusal of 258 African-Americans to return to the dangerous work underpinned the trial and conviction of 50 of the men in what is called the Port Chicago Mutiny – 1944
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Today in Labor History: July 14

The Great Uprising nationwide railway strike begins in Martinsburg, W.Va., after railroad workers are hit with their second pay cut in a year. In the following days, strike riots spread through 17 states. The next week, federal troops were called out to force an end to the strike – 1877

Woody Guthrie, writer of “This Land is Your Land” and “Union Maid,” born in Okemah, Okla. – 1912
(Woody Guthrie: A Life: Folksinger and political activist Woody Guthrie contributed much to the American labor movement, not the least of which are his classic anthems “Union Maid” and “This Land Is Your Land.” This is perhaps his best-ever biography, written by bestselling author Joe Klein (Primary Colors, The Running Mate). It is an easy-to-read, honest description of Guthrie’s life, from a childhood of poverty to a youth spent “bummin’ around” to an adulthood of music and organizing—and a life cut short by incurable disease.)

Italian immigrants and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Massachusetts of murder and payroll robbery—unfairly, most historians agree—after a 2-month trial, and are eventually executed. Fifty years after their deaths the state’s governor issued a proclamation saying they had been treated unfairly and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names.” – 1921
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