Today in Labor History: April 20

Nearly 10,000 demonstrators celebrate textile workers’ win of a 10-percent pay hike and grievance committees after a one-month strike, Lowell, Mass. – 1912

Ludlow massacre: Colorado state militia, using machine guns and fire, kill about 20 people—including 11 children—at a tent city set up by striking coal miners – 1914

An unknown assailant shoots through a window at United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther as he is eating dinner at his kitchen table, permanently impairing his right arm. It was one of at least two assassination attempts on Reuther. He and his wife later died in a small plane crash under what many believe to be suspicious circumstances – 1948

National Association of Post Office Mail Handlers, Watchmen, Messengers & Group Leaders merge with Laborers – 1968

United Auto Workers members end a successful 172-day strike against International Harvester, protesting management demands for new work rules and mandatory overtime provisions – 1980
(They’re Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths about Unions: How familiar do these phrases ring? Unions are responsible for budget deficits; they’ve outlived their usefulness; their members are overpaid and enjoy cushy benefits. The only way to save the American economy, many say, is to weaken the labor movement, strip workers of collective bargaining rights, and champion private industry. In They’re Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths about Unions, longtime labor activist and educator Bill Fletcher Jr. makes sense of this debate as he unpacks the 21 myths most often cited by anti-union propagandists.)

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Today in Labor History: April 19

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the nation’s “Furniture City,” more than 6,000 immigrant workers—Germans, Dutch, Lithuanians and Poles—put down their tools and struck 59 factories for four months in what was to become known as the Great Furniture Strike – 1911
(Mobilizing Against Inequality: Are immigrant workers themselves responsible for low wages and shoddy working conditions? Should unions expend valuable time and energy organizing undocumented workers? Unions in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have taken various approaches to confront the challenges of this significant segment of the workforce. As U.S. immigration policy is debated, readers will gain insight into how all workers benefit when wages and working conditions for immigrant workers are improved.)

An American domestic terrorist’s bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, 99 of whom were government employees – 1995

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Today in Labor History: April 17

The Supreme Court holds that a maximum-hours law for New York bakery workers is unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 14th amendment – 1905

An explosion at a West Texas fertilizer plant kills 15 people and injures nearly 300 when 30 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate—stored in sheds without sprinkler systems—caught fire.  Of those killed, ten were emergency responders – 2013

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Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

April 14
More than 100 Mexican and Filipino farm workers are arrested for union activities, Imperial Valley, Calif. Eight were convicted of “criminal syndicalism” – 1930

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath published – 1939

The United Steelworkers and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers unions merge to form the largest industrial union in North America – 2005

April 15
A. Philip Randolph, civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, born in Crescent City, Fla. – 1889

Eight members of the Musicians union die in the sinking of the Titanic. According to survivors, they played their instruments until nearly the end. Five weeks later a concert organized by the union to benefit the musicians’ families, held in a theater donated for the evening by impresario Flo Ziegfeld, featured the talents of 500 musicians. The evening ended with a rendering of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the hymn being played as the ship went down. The union at the time was called the Musical Mutual Protective Union Local 310, the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Musicians – 1912

IWW union Agricultural Workers Organization formed in Kansas City, Mo. – 1915

Teacher unionists gather at the City Club on Plymouth Court in Chicago to form a new national union: the American Federation of Teachers – 1916

Start of ultimately successful six-day strike across New England by one of the earliest women-led American unions, the Telephone Operators Department of IBEW – 1919

Transport Workers Union founded – 1934

The first McDonald’s restaurant opens, in Des Plaines, Ill., setting the stage years later for sociologist Amitai Etzioni to coin the term “McJob.” As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a McJob is “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector” – 1955

April 16
Employers lock out 25,000 New York City garment workers in a dispute over hiring practices. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union calls a general strike; after 14 weeks, 60,000 strikers win union recognition and the contractual right to strike – 1916

Five hundred workers in Texas City, Texas die in a series of huge oil refinery and chemical plant explosions and fires – 1947

An estimated 20,000 global justice activists blockade Washington, D.C., meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – 2000

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Today in Labor History: April 13

Int’l Hod Carriers & Building Laborers’ Union (today’s Laborers’ Int’l Union) is founded, as 25 delegates from 23 Local Unions in 17 cities—representing 8,186 Laborers—meet in Washington, D.C. – 1903

A 17-year-old Jimmy Hoffa leads his co-workers at a Kroger warehouse in Clinton, Indiana, in a successful job action: by refusing to unload a shipment of perishable strawberries, they forced the company to give in to their demands.  Among other things: the “strawberry boys” had to report to work at 4:30 a.m., stay on the job for 12 hours, and were paid 32¢ an hour—only if growers arrived with berries to unload.  Plus, they were required to spend three-fourths of any earnings buying goods from Kroger – 1930

Labor leader and Socialist Party founder Eugene V. Debs is imprisoned for opposing American entry into World War I.  While in jail he ran for president, received 1 million votes – 1919
(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.)

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Today in Labor History: April 12

A group of “puddlers”—craftsmen who manipulated pig iron to create steel—met in a Pittsburgh bar and formed The Iron City Forge of the Sons of Vulcan. It was the strongest union in the U.S. in the 1870s, later merging with two other unions to form what was to be the forerunner of the United Steel Workers – 1858

Birth of Florence Reece, active in Harlan County, Ky., coal strikes and author of famed labor song “Which Side Are You On?” – 1900

The Union Label and Service Trades Department is founded by the American Federation of Labor. Its mission: promote the products and services of union members – 1909

Twenty “girl millworkers,” attempting to relieve striking pickets at the Garfield, New Jersey, mill of Forstmann and Huffmann, were beaten “when they did not move fast enough to suit” 30 special deputies who ordered them off the site, according to a news report – 1912

Chris Turner is born in Floyd, Va.  He went on to become a NASCAR driver and attempted, along with Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock, to organize the other drivers into a union in 1961 in the hope of better purses, a share in broadcasting rights and retirement benefits for the drivers. He was banned by NASCAR and was unsuccessful when he sued for reinstatement. The court said he was an individual contractor, not an employee of NASCAR or any track – 1924

The Toledo (Ohio) Auto-Lite strike begins today with 6,000 workers demanding union recognition and higher pay.  The strike is notable for a 5-day running battle in late May between the strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard.  Known as the “Battle of Toledo,” the clash left two strikers dead and more than 200 injured.  The 2-month strike, a win for the workers’ union, is regarded by many labor historians as one of the nation’s three most important strikes – 1934

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