Today in Labor History: July 26

July 26
In Chicago, 30 workers are killed by federal troops, more than 100 wounded at the “Battle of the Viaduct” during the Great Railroad Strike – 1877

President Grover Cleveland appoints a United States Strike Committee to investigate the causes of the Pullman strike and the subsequent strike by the American Railway Union. Later that year the commission issues its report, absolving the strikers and blaming Pullman and the railroads for the conflict – 1894

Battle of Mucklow, W.Va., in coal strike. An estimated 100,000 shots were fired; 12 miners and four guards were killed – 1912

President Truman issues Executive Order 9981, directing equality of opportunity in armed forces – 1948

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect today. It requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities and bans discrimination against such workers – 1992

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Today in Labor History: July 25

Workers stage a general strike—believed to be the nation’s first—in St. Louis, in support of striking railroad workers. The successful strike was ended when some 3,000 federal troops and 5,000 deputized special police killed at least eighteen people in skirmishes around the city – 1877

New York garment workers win closed shop and firing of scabs after 7-month strike – 1890
(No Contract, No Peace: A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts: This book is a must-have for any union or activist considering aggressive action to combat management’s growing economic war against workers. No Contract, No Peace! references recent union activities and NLRB decisions that have affected the labor relations environment. Schwartz’s familiarity with labor and employment law combines with his activist spirit to provide innovative yet practical tips for mounting and maintaining meaningful campaigns designed to build union and workers’ power.)

Fifteen “living dead women” testify before the Illinois Industrial Commission.  They were “Radium Girls,” women who died prematurely after working at clock and watch factories, where they were told to wet small paintbrushes in their mouths so they could dip them in radium to paint dials.  A Geiger counter passed over graves in a cemetery near Ottawa, Illinois still registers the presence of radium – 1937

The Teamsters and Service Employees unions break from the AFL-CIO during the federation’s 50th convention to begin the Change to Win coalition, ultimately comprised of seven unions (4 by 2011: SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW and the UFW). They say they want more emphasis on organizing and less on electoral politics – 2005

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Today in Labor History: 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: Weekend Edition

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

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

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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 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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