Today in Labor History: April 11

Ford Motor Company signs first contract with United Auto Workers – 1941

Jackie Robinson, first Black ballplayer hired by a major league team, plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field – 1947

United Mine Workers President W. A. “Tony” Boyle is found guilty of first-degree murder, for ordering the 1969 assassination of union reformer Joseph A. “Jock” Yablonski.  Yablonski, his wife and daughter were murdered on December 30, 1969. Boyle had defeated Yablonski in the UMW election earlier in the year—an election marred by intimidation and vote fraud. That election was set aside and a later vote was won by reformer Arnold Miller – 1974

Some 34,000 New York City Transit Authority workers, eleven days into a strike for higher wages, end their walkout with agreement on a 9-percent increase in the first year and 8 percent in the second, along with cost-of-living protections – 1980

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues regulations prohibiting sexual harassment of workers by supervisors in the workplace – 1980

Police in Austin, Minn., tear-gas striking Hormel meatpacking workers. Seventeen strikers are arrested on felony riot charges – 1986

Some 25,000 marchers in Watsonville, Calif., show support for United Farm Workers organizing campaign among strawberry workers, others – 1997
(Farmworker’s Friend: The story of Cesar Chavez is a thoughtful and moving book about the inspiring life of the founder and long-time leader of the United Farm Workers of America.  This sympathetic portrayal of Chavez and his life’s work begins with his childhood, starting from the time his family’s store in Arizona failed during the Great Depression and his entire family was forced into the fields to harvest vegetables for a few cents an hour.)

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Today in Labor History: April 10

Birth date of Frances Perkins, named Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, becoming the first woman to hold a cabinet-level office – 1880

A total of 133 people, mostly women and girls, are killed when an explosion in the loading room tears apart the Eddystone Ammunition Works in Eddystone, Pa., near Chester. Of the dead, 55 were never identified – 1917

Birth of Dolores Huerta, a co-founder, with Cesar Chavez, of the United Farm Workers – 1930

Dancers from the Lusty Lady Club in San Francisco’s North Beach ratify their first-ever union contract by a vote of 57-15, having won representation by SEIU Local 790 the previous summer. The club, which later became a worker-owned cooperative, closed in 2013 – 1997

Tens of thousands of immigrants demonstrate in 100 U.S. cities in a national day of action billed as a campaign for immigrants’ dignity. Some 200,000 gathered in Washington, D.C. – 2006
(Mobilizing Against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism: 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.)

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Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

April 07
National Labor Relations Board attorney tells ILWU members to “lie down like good dogs,” Juneau, Alaska – 1947

Some 300,000 members of the National Federation of Telephone Workers, soon to become CWA, strike AT&T and the Bell System. Within five weeks all but two of the 39 federation unions had won new contracts – 1947

Fifteen thousand union janitors strike, Los Angeles – 2000

April 08
A total of 128 convict miners, leased to a coal company under the state’s shameful convict lease system, are killed in an explosion at the Banner coal mine outside Birmingham, Ala. The miners were mostly African-Americans jailed for minor offenses – 1911

President Wilson establishes the War Labor Board, composed of representatives from business and labor, to arbitrate disputes between workers and employers during World War I – 1918

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) is approved by Congress. President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the WPA during the Great Depression of the 1930s when almost 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. It created low-paying federal jobs providing immediate relief, putting 8.5 million jobless to work on projects ranging from construction of bridges, highways and public buildings to arts programs like the Federal Writers’ Project – 1935
(Agitate! Educate! Organize! American Labor Posters: WPA artists’ depictions of workers can be seen in labor posters of that era. In Agitate! Educate! Organize!, Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher share their vast knowledge about the rich graphic tradition of labor posters. Here you will find lavish full-color reproductions of more than 250 of the best posters that have emerged from the American labor movement on topics ranging from core issues such as wages and working conditions to discrimination to international solidarity.)

President Harry S. Truman orders the U.S. Army to seize the nation’s steel mills to avert a strike. The Supreme Court ruled the act illegal three weeks later – 1952

April 09
IWW organizes the 1,700-member crew of the Leviathan, then the world’s largest vessel – 1930

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Today in Labor History: April 6

The first slave revolt in the U.S. occurs at a slave market in New York City’s Wall Street area. Twenty-one Blacks were executed for killing nine Whites. The city responded by strengthening its slave codes – 1712

Birth of Rose Schneiderman, prominent member of the New York Women’s Trade Union League, an active participant in the Uprising of the 20,000, the massive strike of shirtwaist workers in New York City led by the Int’l Ladies Garment Workers’ Union in 1909, and famous for an angry speech about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire: “Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers…Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement” – 1882

A sympathy strike by Chicago Teamsters in support of clothing workers leads to daily clashes between strikebreakers and armed police against hundreds and sometimes thousands of striking workers and their supporters. By the time the fight ended after 103 days, 21 people had been killed and 416 injured – 1905

What was to become a two-month strike by minor league umpires begins, largely over money: $5,500 to $15,000 for a season running 142 games. The strike ended with a slight improvement in pay – 2006

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Today in Labor History: April 5

Columnist Victor Riesel, a crusader against mob infiltration of unions, was blinded in New York City when an assailant threw sulfuric acid in his face. He was also an FBI informer for decades, a proponent of the McCarthy era blacklisting that weakened unions for over a generation, and a crusader against unions connecting with anti-war student activism in the 1960’s and 70’s – 1956

Some 14,000 teachers strike Hawaii schools, colleges – 2001

A huge underground explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, W. Va., kills 29 miners. It was the worst U.S. mine disaster in 40 years. The Massey Energy Co. mine had been cited for two safety infractions the day before the blast; 57 the month before, and 1,342 in the previous five years. Three and one-half years after the disaster Massey’s then-CEO, Don Blankenship, was indicted by a federal grand jury on four criminal counts – 2010

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Today in Labor History: April 4

The first issue of The Labor Review, a “weekly magazine for organized workers,” was published in Minneapolis. Edna George, a cigar packer in Minneapolis, won $10 in gold for suggesting the name “Labor Review.” The Labor Review has been published continuously since then, currently as a monthly publication – 1907

Unemployed riot in New York City’s Union Square – 1914

Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, where he had been supporting a sanitation workers’ strike.  In the wake of this tragedy, riots break out in many cities, including Washington, D.C. – 1968

Some 1,700 United Mine Workers members in Virginia and West Virginia beat back concessions demanded by Pittston Coal Co. – 1989

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Today in Labor History: April 3

Some 20,000 textile mill strikers in Paterson, N.J., gather on the green in front of the house of Pietro Botto, the socialist mayor of nearby Haledon, to receive encouragement by novelist Upton Sinclair, journalist John Reed and speakers from the Wobblies. Today, the Botto House is home to the American Labor Museum – 1913

UAW Local 833 strikes the Kohler bathroom fixtures company in Kohler, Wisc. The strike ends six years later after Kohler is found guilty of refusing to bargain, agrees to reinstate 1,400 strikers and pay them $4.5 million in back pay and pension credits – 1954

Martin Luther King Jr. returns to Memphis to stand with striking AFSCME sanitation workers. This evening, he delivers his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in a church packed with union members and others. He is assassinated the following day – 1968

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