Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

May 19
Two hundred sixteen miners die from an explosion and its aftermath at the Fraterville Mine in Anderson County, Tenn.  All but three of Fraterville’s adult males were killed.  The mine had a reputation for fair contracts and pay—miners were represented by the United Mine Workers—and was considered safe; methane may have leaked in from a nearby mine – 1902

Shootout in Matewan, W. Va., between striking union miners (led by Police Chief Sid Hatfield) and coal company agents. Ten died, including seven agents – 1920
(Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films About Labor: The conflict in W. Va. is the subject of the terrific film, Matewan, one of many movies included in this encyclopedic guide to 350 labor films from around the world, ranging from those you’ve heard of—Salt of the Earth, The Grapes of Wrath, Roger & Me—to those you’ve never heard of but will fall in love with once you see them.)

The Steel Workers Organizing Committee, formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, formally becomes the United Steelworkers of America – 1942

A total of 31 dockworkers are killed, 350 workers and others are injured when four barges carrying 467 tons of ammunition blow up at South Amboy, N.J. They were loading mines that had been deemed unsafe by the Army and were being shipped to the Asian market for sale – 1950

May 20
The Railway Labor Act takes effect today. It is the first federal legislation protecting workers’ rights to form unions – 1926

Some 9,000 rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio – 1933

May 21
Italian activists and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, widely believed to have been framed for murder, go on trial today. They eventually are executed as part of a government campaign against dissidents – 1921

The “Little Wagner Act” is signed in Hawaii, guaranteeing pineapple and sugar workers the right to bargain collectively.  After negotiations failed, a successful 79-day strike shut down 33 of the territory’s 34 plantations and brought higher wages and a 40-hour week – 1945

Nearly 100,000 unionized SBC Communications Inc. workers begin a 4-day strike to protest the local phone giant’s latest contract offer – 2004

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