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Today in labor history for the week of December 22, 2014

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December 22
A group of building trades unions from the Midwest meet in St. Louis to form the National Building Trades Council. The Council disbanded after several years of political and jurisdictional differences – 1897

Twenty-one Chicago firefighters, including the chief, died when a building collapsed as they were fighting a huge blaze at the Union Stock Yards. By the time the fire was extinguished, 26 hours after the first alarm, 50 engine companies and seven hook-and-ladder companies had been called to the scene. Until September 11, 2001, it was the deadliest building collapse in American history in terms of firefighter fatalities – 1910

Amid a widespread strike for union recognition by 395,000 steelworkers, approximately 250 alleged “anarchists,” “communists,” and “labor agitators” were deported to Russia, marking the beginning of the so-called “Red Scare” – 1919
(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.)

December 23
AFL officers are found in contempt of court for urging a labor boycott of Buck’s Stove and Range Co. in St Louis, where the Metal Polishers were striking for a 9-hour day – 1908

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Construction workers top out the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 1,368 feet, making it the tallest building in the world – 1970

Walmart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest employer, with 1.4 million “associates,” agrees to settle 63 wage and hour suits across the U.S., for a grand total of between $352 million and $640 million. It was accused of failure to pay overtime, requiring off-the-clock work, and failure to provide required meal and rest breaks – 2008

December 24
Seventy-two copper miners’ children die in panic caused by a company stooge at Calumet, Mich., who shouted “fire” up the stairs into a crowded hall where the children had gathered. They were crushed against closed doors when they tried to flee – 1913

December 25
A dynamite bomb destroys a portion of the Llewellyn Ironworks in Los Angeles, where a bitter strike was in progress – 1910

2014.12.22history-asu.pvt.stappFourteen servicemen from military bases across the U.S., led by Pvt. Andrew Stapp, form The American Servicemen’s Union (ASU). The union, which never came close to being recognized by the government, in its heyday during the Viet Nam war claimed tens of thousands of members and had chapters at bases, on ships and in Viet Nam. ASU demands included the right to elect officers – 1967

December 26
Knights of Labor founded. Constitution bars from membership “parasites,” including stockbrokers and lawyers – 1869

Workingmen’s Party is reorganized as the Socialist Labor Party – 1877

December 27
President Roosevelt seizes the railroads to avert a nationwide strike. His decision to temporarily place the railroads under the “supervision” of the War Department prompts the five railroad brotherhoods to agree to his offer to arbitrate the wage dispute – 1943

December 28
The coffee percolator is patented by James H. Mason of Franklin, Mass., placing himself forever in the debt of millions of caffeine-dependent working people – 1865

Auto workers begin sit-down strike for union recognition at GM’s Fisher Body plant in Cleveland – 19362014.12.22history-insideview
(Negotiating for the Union: An Inside View of Strategies and Tactics: This three part video series, produced in-house with union volunteers and labor educators, is a tool for teaching about negotiations and grievances. The DVD is sold with a discussion guide for each segment: An Inside View of Collective Bargaining; Bargaining and Caucus Techniques, and Resolving a Suspension Grievance.)

Country music legend Hank Williams attends what is to be his last musicians’ union meeting, at the Elite (pronounced E-light) café in Montgomery, Ala. He died of apparent heart failure three days later in the back seat of a car driving north. He was 29 – 1952

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December 21, 1916

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Labor organizer, community activist, and civil rights advocate Emma Tenayuca is born in San Antonio. Her advocacy for the working poor – especially Mexican American women – led her to become known as “La Pasionaria” and was an inspiration to future generations of labor and civil rights activists. “I never thought in terms of fear. I thought in terms of justice.”

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December 16, 1929

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December 16

New South Wales mounted police open fire on a crowd of 4,000 coal miners – locked out since March – protesting the introduction of scabs at the Rothbury, Australia, mine. One miner was killed and others seriously injured. Earlier in September, the government introduced an “Unlawful Assembly Act,” which declared pickets and protests illegal and authorized the police to break them up.

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December 16, 1929

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December 16

New South Wales mounted police open fire on a crowd of 4,000 coal miners – locked out since March – protesting the introduction of scabs at the Rothbury, Australia, mine. One miner was killed and others seriously injured. Earlier in September, the government introduced an “Unlawful Assembly Act,” which declared pickets and protests illegal and authorized the police to break them up.

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Today in labor history for the week of December 15, 2014

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December 15
AFL convention passes a 1¢ per capita assessment to aid the organization of women workers (Exact date uncertain) – 1913

The Kansas National Guard is called out to subdue from 2,000 to 6,000 protesting women who were going from mine to mine attacking non-striking miners in the Pittsburgh coal fields. The women made headlines across the state and the nation: they were christened the “Amazon Army” by the New York Times – 1921

Eight days after the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, the AFL pledges that there will be no strikes in defense-related plants for the duration of World War II – 1941

Meeting in its biennial convention, the AFL-CIO declares “unstinting support” for “measures the Administration might deem necessary to halt Communist aggression and secure a just and lasting peace” in Vietnam – 1967

The U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act becomes law. It bars employment discrimination against anyone aged 40 or older – 19672014.12.15history-fed.emp.laws
(The Essential Guide To Federal Employment Laws, 4th edition: This is a well-indexed book, updated in 2013, offering the full text of 20 federal laws affecting workers’ lives, along with plain-English explanations of each. An entire chapter is devoted to each law, explaining what is allowed and prohibited and what businesses must comply.)

California’s longest nurses’ strike ended after workers at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo and Pinole approved a new contract with Tenet Healthcare Corp., ending a 13-month walkout – 2003

Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union organizer Clinton Jencks, who led New Mexico zinc miners in the strike depicted in the classic 1954 movie Salt of the Earth, dies of natural causes in San Diego at age 87 – 2005

December 16
The National Civic Federation is formed by business and labor leaders, most prominently AFL president Sam Gompers, as a vehicle to resolve conflicts between management and labor. Not all unionists agreed with the alliance. The group turned increasingly conservative and labor withdrew after Gompers’ 1924 death – 1900

2014.12.15history-majesticNew York City’s Majestic Theater becomes first in the U.S. to employ women ushers – 1902

The Bagel Bakers of America union is continuing a work slowdown at 32 of New York’s 34 bagel bakeries in a dispute over health and welfare fund payments and workplace sanitation, the New York Times reports. Coincidentally—or not—lox sales were down 30 percent to 50 percent as well. The effect on the cream cheese market was not reported – 1951

Four railway unions merge to become the United Transportation Union: Trainmen, Firemen & Enginemen, Switchmen, and Conductors and Brakemen – 1968

Eight female bank tellers in Willmar, Minn., begin the first strike against a bank in U.S. history. At issue: they were paid little more than half what male tellers were paid. The strike ended in moral victory but economic defeat two years later – 1977
(United Apart: Gender and the Rise of Craft Unionism: At the turn of the twentieth century, American 2014.12.15history-united.apartfactory workers were often segregated by sex—males did heavier, dirtier, and better paid, work while women might be employed in a separate area performing related, lighter work. Men might cut bolts of fabric, for example, while women stitched cuffs onto sleeves. How this division of labor played out when an occupational group comprised of one sex went on strike is the subject of this book.)

December 17
Int’l Union of Aluminum, Brick & Glass Workers merges with United Steelworkers of America – 1996

December 18
General Motors announces it is closing 21 North American plants over the following four years and slashing tens of thousands of jobs – 1991

December 19
An explosion in the Darr Mine in Westmoreland Co., Pa., kills 239 coal miners. Seventy-one of the dead share a common grave in Olive Branch Cemetery. December 1907 was the worst month in U.S. coal mining history, with more than 3,000 dead – 1907

2014.12.15history-greyhound-strikeA 47-day strike at Greyhound Bus Lines ends with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union accepting a new contract containing deep cuts in wages and benefits. Striker Ray Phillips died during the strike, run over on a picket line by a scab Greyhound trainee – 1983

Twenty-six men and one woman are killed in the Wilberg Coal Mine Disaster near Orangeville, Utah. The disaster has been termed the worst coal mine fire in the state’s history. Federal mine safety officials issued 34 safety citations after the disaster but had inspected the mine only days before and declared it safe – 1984
(Inventory of American Labor Landmarks: This attractive booklet offers a 2014.12.15history-landmarksnice selection from the Labor Heritage Foundation’s comprehensive, ongoing inventory of labor landmarks across the country. Nearly 200 monuments, plaques and other markers are described here, from 33 states and the District of Columbia, accompanied by historical summaries and, often, by photographs.)

December 20
Delegates to the AFL convention in Salt Lake City endorse a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote – 1899

2014.12.15history-filipino.sugar.workersThe first group of 15 Filipino plantation workers recruited by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association arrive in Hawaii. By 1932 more than 100,000 Filipinos will be working in the fields – 1906

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) takes effect today – 1970

Thousands of workers began what was to be a 2-day strike of the New York City transit system over retirement, pension and wage issues. The strike violated the state’s Taylor Law; TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint was jailed for ten days and the union was fined $2.5 million – 2005

December 21
Powered by children seven to 12 years old working dawn to dusk, Samuel Slater’s thread-spinning factory goes into production in Pawtucket, R.I., launching the Industrial Revolution in America. By 1830, 55 percent of the mill workers in the state were youngsters, many working for less than $1 per week – 1790

Supreme Court rules that picketing is unconstitutional. Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft declared that picketing was, in part, “an unlawful annoyance and hurtful nuisance…” – 1921

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December 11, 2012

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Michigan becomes the 24th “right-to-work” state in the United States when Governor Rick Snyder signs legislation hours after the bills – one covering private workers, the other covering public workers – won final approval in the House and five days after he joined with Senate and House majority leaders to announce their plan to enact the law.

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