Today in Labor History: October 20

Eugene V. Debs, U.S. labor leader and socialist, dies in Elmhurst, Ill. Among his radical ideas: an 8-hour workday, pensions, workman’s compensation, sick leave and social security. He ran for president from a jail cell in 1920 and got a million votes – 1926
(The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs: Eugene V. Debs was a labor activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who captured the heart and soul of the nation’s working people. He was brilliant, sincere, compassionate and scrupulously honest.  A founder of one of the nation’s first industrial unions, the American Railway Union, he went on to help launch the Industrial Workers of the World—the Wobblies.  A man of firm beliefs and dedication, he ran for President of the United States five times under the banner of the Socialist Party, in 1912 earning 6 percent of the popular vote.)

Hollywood came under scrutiny as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened hearings into alleged Communist influence within the motion picture industry. Dozens of union members were among those blacklisted as a result of HUAC’s activities – 1947

Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan writes to PATCO President Robert Poli with this promise: if the union endorses Reagan, “I will take whatever steps are necessary to provide our air traffic controllers with the most modern equipment available and to adjust staff levels and work days so that they are commensurate with achieving a maximum degree of public safety.” He got the endorsement. Nine months after the election, he fires the air traffic controllers for engaging in an illegal walkout over staffing levels and working conditions – 1980

Death of Merle Travis, songwriter and performer who wrote “Sixteen Tons” and “Dark as a Dungeon” – 1983

Two track workers are killed in a (San Francisco) Bay Area Rapid Transit train accident.  Federal investigators said the train was run by a BART employee who was being trained as an operator as members of the Amalgamated Transit Union were participating in what was to be a four-day strike – 2013
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