Today in Labor History: May 18

In what may have been baseball’s first labor strike, the Detroit Tigers refuse to play after team leader Ty Cobb is suspended: he went into the stands and beat a fan who had been heckling him.  Cobb was reinstated and the Tigers went back to work after the team manager’s failed attempt to replace the players with a local college team: their pitcher gave up 24 runs – 1912

Amalgamated Meat Cutters union organizers launch a campaign in the nation’s packinghouses, an effort that was to bring representation to 100,000 workers over the following two years – 1917

Jerry Wurf, who was to serve as president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) from 1964 to his death in 1981, born in New York City. The union grew from about 220,000 members to more than 1 million during his presidency – 1919

Big Bill Haywood, a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), dies in exile in the Soviet Union – 1928

Atlanta transit workers, objecting to a new city requirement that they be fingerprinted as part of the employment process, go on strike. They relented and returned to work six months later – 1950

Insurance Agents Int’l Union and Insurance Workers of America merge to become Insurance Workers Int’l Union (later to merge into the UFCW) – 1959

Oklahoma jury finds for the estate of atomic worker Karen Silkwood, orders Kerr-McGee Nuclear Co. to pay $505,000 in actual damages, $10 million in punitive damages for negligence leading to Silkwood’s plutonium contamination – 1979
(The Killing of Karen Silkwood: This is an updated edition of the groundbreaking book about the death of union activist Karen Silkwood, an employee of a plutonium processing plant, who was killed in a mysterious car crash on her way to deliver important documents to a newspaper reporter in 1974. Silkwood’s death at age 28 was highly suspicious: she had been working on health and safety issues at the plant, and a lot of people stood to benefit by her death.  If all you know about Karen Silkwood, her work, and the circumstances surrounding her death is what you saw in the movie Silkwood, with Meryl Streep portraying the young activist, you’ll be in for a real awakening: the author, an investigative reporter, explores the possibility of involvement not only by the Kerr-McGee Corporation, but by the Atomic Energy Commission, the FBI and the CIA.)
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