Today in Labor History: May 11

Nationwide railway strike begins at Pullman, Ill. Nearly 260,000 railroad workers ultimately joined the strike to protest wage cuts by the Pullman Palace Car Co. – 1894

Seventeen crewmen on the iron ore freighter Henry Steinbrenner die when the ship, carrying nearly 7,000 tons of ore, sinks during a violent storm on Lake Erie. Another 16 crewmen survived – 1953

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Today in Labor History: May 10

Thanks to an army of thousands of Chinese and Irish immigrants, who laid 2,000 miles of track, the nation’s first transcontinental railway line was finished by the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines at Promontory Point, Utah – 1869

U.S. & Canadian workers form Western Labor Union. It favors industrial organization and independent labor party politics – 1898

A federal bankruptcy judge permits United Airlines to legally abandon responsibility for pensions covering 120,000 employees – 2005

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Today in Labor History: May 9

The first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was held on this date in New York City. Attendees included women of color, the wives and daughters of slaveholders, and women of low economic status – 1837

Japanese workers strike at Oahu, Hawaii’s Aiea Plantation, demanding the same pay as Portuguese and Puerto Rican workers. Ultimately 7,000 workers and their families remained out until August, when the strike was broken – 1909

Legendary Western Federation of Miners leader William “Big Bill” Haywood goes on trial for murder in the bombing death of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, who had brutally suppressed the state’s miners. Haywood ultimately was declared innocent – 1907

Longshoremen’s strike to gain control of hiring leads to general work stoppage, San Francisco Bay area – 1934

Hollywood studio mogul Louis B. Mayer recognizes the Screen Actors Guild. SAG leaders reportedly were bluffing when they told Mayer that 99 percent of all actors would walk out the next morning unless he dealt with the union. Some 5,000 actors attended a victory gathering the following day at Hollywood Legion Stadium; a day later, SAG membership increased 400 percent – 1937

United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther and his wife May die in a plane crash as they travel to oversee construction of the union’s education and training facility at Black Lake, Mich. – 1971

Four thousand garment workers, mostly Hispanic, strike for union recognition at the Farah Manufacturing Co. in El Paso, Texas – 1972
(The Union Steward’s Guide, Spanish 3rd edition: This bound, 169-page compilation contains more than 130 articles from the Spanish language edition of Steward Update newsletter, read today by more than 80,000 stewards across North America. Chapter headings include A Union Steward’s Rules & Tools, Grievance Handling, Health and Safety Issues, Building Unity and Strength, and more—every article will develop skills and build confidence!)

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Today in Labor History: Weekend Edition

May 05
National Typographical Union founded, Cincinnati, Ohio. It was renamed the Int’l Typographical Union in 1869, in acknowledgment of Canadian members. When the ITU merged into CWA in 1986 it was the oldest existing union in the U.S. – 1852

On Chicago’s West Side, police attack Jewish workers as they try to march into the Loop to protest slum conditions – 1886

Some 14,000 building trades workers and laborers, demanding an 8-hour work day, gather at the Milwaukee Iron Co. rolling mill in Bay View, Wisc. When they approach the mill they are fired on by 250 National Guardsmen under orders from the governor to shoot to kill. Seven die, including a 13-year-old boy – 1886
(Unions for Beginners: It is a time when unions have returned to the front pages of newspapers and blogs and demonstrators are in the streets of America every day. It is a time when the right wing has tried to strike the final blow against what remains of the right to collective bargaining. It is a time when millions of members of the middle class are falling through the cracks in a downward economic trend that parallels the decline of unions. It is this time when people are turning again to the history of unions. Unions for Beginners provides an introduction to that essential history.)

Nineteen machinists working for the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad gather in a locomotive pit to decide what to do about a wage cut. They vote to form a union, which later became the Int’l Association of Machinists – 1888

Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are arrested in Boston for murder and payroll robbery. Eventually they are executed for a crime most believe they did not commit – 1920

Heavily armed deputies and other mine owner hirelings attack striking miners in Harlan County, Ky., starting the Battle of Harlan County – 1931

John J. Sweeney, president of the Service Employees Int’l Union from 1980 to 1995, then president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009, born in the Bronx, N.Y. – 1934

Lumber strike begins in Pacific Northwest, will involve 40,000 workers by the time victory is achieved after 13 weeks: union recognition, a 50¢-per-hour minimum wage and an 8-hour day – 1937

The U.S. unemployment rate drops to a 30-year low of 3.9 percent; the rate for Blacks and Hispanics is the lowest ever since the government started tracking such data – 2000

May 06
Works Progress Administration (WPA) established at a cost of $4.8 billion—more than $80 billion in 2015 dollars—to provide work opportunities for millions during the Great Depression – 1935

Four hundred Black women working as tobacco stemmers walk off the job in a spontaneous revolt against poor working conditions and a $3 weekly wage at the Vaughan Co. in Richmond, Va. – 1937

May 07
The Knights of St. Crispin union is formed at a secret meeting in Milwaukee. It grew to 50,000 members before being crushed by employers later that year – 1867

Two die, 20 are injured in “Bloody Tuesday” as strikebreakers attempt to run San Francisco streetcars during a strike by operators. The strike was declared lost in 1908 after many more deaths, including several in scab-operated streetcar accidents – 1907

Philadelphia’s longest transit strike ends after 44 days. A key issue in the fight was the hiring and use of part-timers – 1977

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Today in Labor History: May 4

Haymarket massacre. A bomb is thrown as Chicago police start to break up a rally for strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. A riot erupts, 11 police and strikers die, mostly from gunfire, and scores more are injured – 1886

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Today in Labor History: May 3

Four striking workers are killed, at least 200 wounded, when police attack a demonstration on Chicago’s south side at the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant. The Haymarket Massacre is to take place the following day – 1886
(Attacks against strikers and the very existence of organized labor persist to this day.  From Blackjacks to Briefcases is the first book to document the systematic and extensive use by American corporations of professional unionbusters, an ugly profession that surfaced after the Civil War and has grown bolder and more sophisticated with the passage of time.)

Eugene V. Debs and other leaders of the American Railway Union are jailed for six months for contempt of court in connection with Pullman railroad car strike – 1895

Pete Seeger, folksinger and union activist, born in Patterson, N.Y. Among his songs: “If I Had A Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” – 1919

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Today in Labor History: May 2

Chicago’s first Trades Assembly, formed three years earlier, sponsors a general strike by thousands of workers to enforce the state’s new 8-hour-day law. The one-week strike was unsuccessful – 1867

Birth of Richard Trevellick, a ship carpenter, founder of American National Labor Union and later head of the National Labor Congress, America’s first national labor organization – 1830

First Workers’ Compensation law in U.S. enacted, in Wisconsin – 1911

President Herbert Hoover declares that the stock market crash six months earlier was just a “temporary setback” and the economy would soon bounce back. In fact, the Great Depression was to continue and worsen for several more years – 1930

German police units occupied all trade unions headquarters in the country, arresting union officials and leaders. Their treasuries were confiscated and the unions abolished. Hitler announced that the German Labour Front, headed by his appointee, would replace all unions and look after the working class – 1933

A fire at the Sunshine silver mine in Kellogg, Idaho, caused the death of 91 workers who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, likely caused by toxic fumes emitted by burning polyurethane foam, used as a fire retardant – 1972

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