Today in Labor History: June 26

Members of the American Railway Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, refuse to handle Pullman cars, in solidarity with Pullman strikers. Two dozen strikers were killed over the course of the strike – 1894

The 189-mile-long St. Lawrence Seaway opens, making the Great Lakes accessible to Atlantic shipping.  Thousands of laborers toiled for decades to make it happen; indirectly and directly, the Seaway today supports 75,000 jobs in Canada and 150,000 in the U.S. – 1959

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Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

June 23
Charles Moyer, president of the Western Federation of Miners, goes to Butte, Mont. in an attempt to mediate a conflict between factions of the miner’s local there. It didn’t go well. Gunfight in the union hall killed one man; Moyer and other union officers left the building, which was then leveled in a dynamite blast – 1914

Congress overrides President Harry Truman’s veto of the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act. The law weakened unions and let states exempt themselves from union requirements. Twenty states immediately enacted open shop laws and more followed – 1947

OSHA issues standard on cotton dust to protect 600,000 workers from byssinosis, also known as “brown lung” – 1978

A majority of the 5,000 textile workers at six Fieldcrest Cannon textile plants in Kannapolis, N.C., vote for union representation after an historic 25-year fight – 1999

June 24
Birth of Agnes Nestor, president of the Int’l Glove Workers Union and longtime leader of the Chicago Women’s Trade Union League. She began work in a glove factory at age 14 – 1880

Seventeen workers are killed as methane explodes in a water tunnel under construction in Sylmar, Calif. – 1971

June 25
More than 8,000 people attend the dedication ceremony for The Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Chicago, honoring those framed and executed for the bombing at Haymarket Square on May 4, 1886 – 1893
(A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present: If your last serious read of American history was in high school—or even in a standard college course—you’ll want to read this amazing account of America as seen through the eyes of its working people, women and minorities. Zinn, a widely respected Boston University professor, turns history on its head with his carefully researched and dramatic recounting of America and its people—not just its bankers, industrialists, generals and politicians.)

Fair Labor Standards Act passes Congress, banning child labor and setting the 40-hour work week – 1938

At the urging of Black labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, Franklin Roosevelt issues an executive order barring discrimination in defense industries – 1941

Congress passes the Smith-Connally War Labor Disputes Act over President Franklin Roosevelt’s veto. It allows the federal government to seize and operate industries threatened by strikes that would interfere with war production. It was hurriedly created after the third coal strike in seven weeks – 1943

A total of 21 workers are killed when a fireworks factory near Hallett, Okla., explodes – 1985

Decatur, Ill., police pepper-gas workers at A.E. Staley plant gate one year into the company’s two-and-a-half-year lockout of Paperworkers Local 7837 – 1994

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Today in Labor History: June 22

A total of 86 passengers on a train carrying members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus are killed, another 127 injured in a wreck near Hammond, Indiana.  Five days later the dead are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Ill., in an area set aside as Showmen’s Rest, purchased only a few months earlier by the Showmen’s League of America – 1918

Violence erupted during a coal mine strike at Herrin, Ill. A total of 36 were killed, 21 of them non-union miners – 1922

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Today in Labor History: June 21

In England, a compassionate parliament declares that children can’t be required to work more than 12 hours a day. And they must have an hour’s instruction in the Christian Religion every Sunday and not be required to sleep more than two in a bed – 1802
(Kids at Work: Your heart will be broken by this exceptional book’s photographs of children at backbreaking, often life-threatening work, and the accompanying commentary by author Russell Freedman. Photographer Lewis Hine—who himself died in poverty in 1940—did as much, and perhaps more, than any social critic in the early part of the 20th century to expose the abuse of children, as young as three and four, by American capitalism.)

Ten miners accused of being militant “Molly Maguires” are hanged in Pennsylvania. A private corporation initiated the investigation of the 10 through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested them, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. “The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows,” a judge said many years later – 1877

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the right of unions to publish statements urging members to vote for a specific congressional candidate, ruling that such advocacy is not a violation of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act – 1948

An estimated 100,000 unionists and other supporters march in solidarity with striking Detroit News and Detroit Free Press newspaper workers – 1997

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Today in Labor History: June 20

Birth of Albert Parsons, Haymarket martyr – 1848

The American Railway Union, headed by Eugene Debs, is founded in Chicago. In the Pullman strike a year later, the union was defeated by federal injunctions and troops, and Debs was imprisoned for violating the injunctions – 1893

Henry Ford recognizes the United Auto Workers, signs contract for workers at River Rouge plant – 1941

Striking African-American auto workers are attacked by KKK, National Workers League, and armed White workers at Belle Isle amusement park in Detroit. Two days of riots follow, 34 people are killed, more than 1,300 arrested – 1943
(All Labor Has DignityDr. Martin Luther  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. As we struggle with the growing inequality between the nation’s wealthy and working classes, this collection of King’s speeches on labor rights and economic justice 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.)

The Taft-Hartley Labor Management Relations Act, curbing strikes, is vetoed by President Harry S. Truman. The veto was overridden three days later by a Republican-controlled Congress – 1947

Oil began traveling through the Alaska pipeline. Seventy thousand people worked on building the pipeline, history’s largest privately-financed construction project – 1977

Evelyn Dubrow, described by the New York Times as organized labor’s most prominent lobbyist at the time of its greatest power, dies at age 95. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union lobbyist once told the Times that “she trudged so many miles around Capitol Hill that she wore out 24 pairs of her size 4 shoes each year.” She retired at age 86 – 2006

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Today in Labor History: June 19

Eight-hour work day adopted for federal employees – 1912

AFL President Sam Gompers and Secretary of War Newton Baker sign an agreement establishing a three-member board of adjustment to control wages, hours and working conditions for construction workers employed on government projects.  The agreement protected union wage and hour standards for the duration of World War I – 1917

A pioneering sit-down strike is conducted by workers at a General Tire Co. factory in Akron, Ohio. The United Rubber Workers union was founded a year later.  The tactic launched a wave of similar efforts in the auto and other industries over the next several years – 1934
(In this expanded edition of Strike! you can read about the General Tire Co. strike as well as other labor-management conflicts that have occurred over the past 140 years.  Here you’ll learn much about workers’ struggle to win a degree of justice, from the workers’ point of view.)

The Women’s Day Massacre in Youngstown, Ohio, when police use tear gas on women and children, including at least one infant in his mother’s arms, during a strike at Republic Steel. One union organizer later recalled, “When I got there I thought the Great War had started over again. Gas was flying all over the place and shots flying and flares going up and it was the first time I had ever seen anything like it in my life…” – 1937

ILWU begins a 4-day general strike in sugar, pineapple, and longshore to protest convictions under the anti-communist Smith Act of seven activists, “the Hawaii Seven.” The convictions were later overturned by a federal appeals court – 1953

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Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

June 16
Eight local unions organize the Int’l Fur Workers Union of U.S. and Canada. The union later merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen – 1913

Railroad union leader and socialist Eugene V. Debs speaks in Canton, Ohio, on the relation between capitalism and war. Ten days later he is arrested under the Espionage Act, eventually sentenced to 10 years in jail – 1918

The National Industrial Recovery Act became law, but was later to be declared unconstitutional. It established the right to unionize, set maximum hours and minimum wages for every major industry, abolished sweatshops and child labor. The Wagner Act, in effect today, was approved two years later to legalize unionization – 1933

Inacom Corp., once the world’s largest computer dealer, sends most of its 5,100 employees an email instructing them to call a toll-free phone number; when they call, a recorded message announces they have been fired – 2000

June 17
Twenty-one young women and girls making cartridges for the Union Army at the Washington, D.C. arsenal during the Civil War are killed in an accidental explosion. Most of the victims were Irish immigrants. A monument was erected in the Congressional Cemetery, where 17 of the workers were buried – 1864

Susan B. Anthony goes on trial in Canandaigua, N.Y., for casting her ballot in a federal election the previous November, in violation of existing statutes barring women from the vote – 1873

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones leads a rally in Philadelphia to focus public attention on children mutilated in the state’s textile mills. Three weeks later the 73-year-old will lead a march to New York City to plead with President Theodore Roosevelt to help improve conditions for the children – 1903
(The Autobiography of Mother Jones: Mary Harris Jones—“Mother Jones”—was the most dynamic woman ever to grace the American labor movement.  Employers and politicians around the turn of the century called her “the most dangerous woman in America” and rebellious working men and women loved her as they never loved anyone else.)

Twelve trade unionists meet in Pittsburgh to launch a drive to organize all steelworkers. It was the birth of the United Steelworkers of America (then called the Steel Workers Organizing Committee). By the end of the year 125,000 workers joined the union in support of its $5-a-day wage demand – 1936

Nine firefighters are killed, eight more injured when a large section of Boston’s Hotel Vendom collapses on them.  The firefighters were performing cleanup when the collapse occurred, having successfully fought a fire at the luxury hotel earlier in the day – 1972

June 18
Union and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph and others meet with President Roosevelt about a proposed July 1 March on Washington to protest discrimination in war industries. A week later, Roosevelt orders that the industries desegregate – 1941

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