Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition
July 25—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
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
July 27—William Sylvis, founder of the National Labor Union, died – 1869
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Labor Video: Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl
An unexpected friendship between two Italian and Jewish immigrant girls provides the backdrop for this story of labor organizing and women’s growing activism. While working in harsh sweatshops and factories, the young women also experienced the thrills of movies, amusement parks and dance halls. As their numbers in the workforce grew and working conditions declined they took matters into their own hands. In 1909, garment workers staged the “Uprising of the 20,000,” a massive strike that won union recognition and transformed the role of women in the union movement. Click here to watch the trailer.