Today in Labor HIstory: Weekend Edition

February 10
The American Federation of Labor (AFL) founds the Building and Construction Trades Department as a way to overcome the jurisdictional conflicts occurring in the building and construction unions – 1908

Eleven members of the Carpenters’ union in Reesor Siding, Northern Ontario are shot, three fatally, by independent local farmer-settlers who were supplying wood to a Spruce Falls Power and Paper Co. plant. Some 400 union members were attempting to block an outbound shipment from the plant. The action came as the company was insisting on a pay freeze and two months of seven-day-a-week work – 1963

Forty workers are killed on Staten Island, N.Y., when a huge storage tank filled with liquefied gas explodes – 1973

February 11
Five hundred Japanese and 200 Mexican laborers unite to fight the labor contractor responsible for hiring at the American Beet Sugar Co. in Oxnard, Calif. They ultimately win higher wages and the right to shop at stores not owned by the company – 1903

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is arrested while leading a protest of conditions in West Virginia mines. She was 83 years old at the time – 1913
(Mother Jones Speaks: Speeches and Writings: Admirers and students of Mother Jones will want this comprehensive collection of her speeches, letters, articles, interviews and testimony before Congressional committees. In her own words, this brave and determined heroine to millions of workers, active from the end of the Civil War until shortly before her death in 1930, explains her life, her mission, her passion on behalf of working people.)

Fifteen thousand rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio, protesting speed-up – 1913

The Seattle General Strike ends after six days. Some 65,000 workers struck for higher pay after two years of World War I wage controls – 1919

“White Shirt Day” at UAW-represented GM plants.  Union members are encouraged to wear white shirts, marking the anniversary of the 1936-1937 Flint sit-down strike that gave the union bargaining rights at the automaker. The mission: send a message that “blue collar” workers deserve the same respect as their management counterparts.  One of the day’s traditional rules: Don’t get your shirt any dirtier than the boss gets his.  The 44-day strike was won in 1937 but the tradition didn’t begin until 1948, at the suggestion of Local 598 member Bert Christenson – 1948

Some 1,300 sanitation workers begin what is to become a 64-day strike in Memphis, ultimately winning union recognition and wage increases. The April 4 assassination in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr., who had been taking an active role in mass meetings and street actions, brought pressure on the city to settle the strike – 1968
(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. All Labor Has Dignity is a collection of King’s speeches on labor rights and economic justice that underscore his relevance for today. They help us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to unions and an end to poverty was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda.)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announces he will call out the National Guard, if necessary, to deal with any “unrest” among state employees in the wake of his decision to unilaterally end nearly all collective bargaining rights for the workers – 2011

February 12
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass born into slavery near Easton, Md. – 1818

John L. Lewis, president of United Mine Workers of America and founding president of the CIO, born near Lucas, Iowa – 1880

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