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Today in labor history for the week of February 8, 2016

February 08
Mary Kenney O'Sullivan is born in Hannibal, Mo.  At age 28 she was to be appointed the first female general organizer for the American Federation of Labor by AFL President Samuel Gompers - 1864
 
Vigilantes beat IWW organizers for exercising free-speech rights, San Diego - 1912
 
February 09
Wobbly activist Tom Mooney convicted in bombing frame-up orchestrated by Pinkerton Detective Agency. He was pardoned and released 22 years later - 1917
 
Congress approves legislation allowing for a total of $940 million to be used for Depression-era relief projects. $790 million of this money was intended to be used to fund work relief and flood recovery programs - 1937
 
U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy falsely charged that the State Department was riddled with Communists. It seems that just about everyone else the Wisconsin senator didn’t like was a Communist as well, including scores of unionists. This was the beginning of "McCarthyism." He ultimately was officially condemned by the Senate and died of alcoholism - 1950
 
President Kennedy asks Congress to approve creation of the Medicare program, financed by an increase in Social Security taxes, to aid 14.2 million Americans aged 65 or older - 1961
 
Some 19,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers in Washington state and Oregon begin what is to become a 40-day strike over economic issues - 2000
 
February 10
The American Federation of Labor (AFL) founds the Building and Construction Trades Department as a way to overcome the jurisdictional conflicts occurring in the building and construction unions - 1908

(Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits: A Century of Building Trades History follows the history of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO from the emergence of building trades councils to the age of the skyscraper. It takes the reader through treacherous fights over jurisdiction as new building materials and methods of work evolved and describes numerous Department campaigns to improve safety standards, work with contractors to promote unionized construction, and forge a sense of industrial unity among its fifteen (and at times nineteen) autonomous and highly diverse affiliates.)
 
Eleven members of the Carpenters’ union in Reesor Siding, Northern Ontario are shot, three fatally, by independent local farmer-settlers who were supplying wood to a Spruce Falls Power and Paper Co. plant. Some 400 union members were attempting to block an outbound shipment from the plant. The action came as the company was insisting on a pay freeze and two months of seven-day-a-week work - 1963
 
Forty workers are killed on Staten Island, N.Y., when a huge storage tank filled with liquefied gas explodes - 1973
 
February 11
Five hundred Japanese and 200 Mexican laborers unite to fight the labor contractor responsible for hiring at the American Beet Sugar Co. in Oxnard, Calif. They ultimately win higher wages and the right to shop at stores not owned by the company - 1903
 
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is arrested while leading a protest of conditions in West Virginia mines. She was 83 years old at the time - 1913
 
Fifteen thousand rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio, protesting speed-up - 1913
 
The Seattle General Strike ends after six days. Some 65,000 workers struck for higher pay after two years of World War I wage controls - 1919
 
“White Shirt Day” at UAW-represented GM plants.  Union members are encouraged to wear white shirts, marking the anniversary of the 1936-1937 Flint sit-down strike that gave the union bargaining rights at the automaker. The mission: send a message that “blue collar” workers deserve the same respect as their management counterparts.  One of the day’s traditional rules: Don’t get your shirt any dirtier than the boss gets his.  The 44-day strike was won in 1937 but the tradition didn’t begin until 1948, at the suggestion of Local 598 member Bert Christenson - 1948
 
Some 1,300 sanitation workers begin what is to become a 64-day strike in Memphis, ultimately winning union recognition and wage increases. The April 4 assassination in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr., who had been taking an active role in mass meetings and street actions, brought pressure on the city to settle the strike - 1968
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announces he will call out the National Guard, if necessary, to deal with any "unrest" among state employees in the wake of his decision to unilaterally end nearly all collective bargaining rights for the workers - 2011
 
February 12
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass born into slavery near Easton, Md. - 1818
 
John L. Lewis, president of United Mine Workers of America and founding president of the CIO, born near Lucas, Iowa - 1880
 
February 13
A national eight-month strike by the Sons of Vulcan, a union of iron forgers, ends in victory when employers agreed to a wage scale based on the price of iron bars—the first time employers recognized the union, the first union contract in the iron and steel industry, and what may be the first union contract of any kind in the United States - 1865
 
Some 12,000 Hollywood writers returned to work today following a largely successful three-month strike against television and motion picture studios.  They won compensation for their TV and movie work that gets streamed on the Internet - 2008

(Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff is an encyclopedic guide to 350 labor films from around the world, ranging from those you’ve heard of—Salt of the Earth, The Grapes of Wrath, Roger & Me—to those you’ve never heard of but will fall in love with once you see them. Fiction and nonfiction, the films are about unions, labor history, working-class life, political movements, and the struggle between labor and capital.)
 
February 14
Western Federation of Miners strike for 8-hour day - 1903
 
President Theodore Roosevelt creates the Department of Commerce and Labor. It was divided into two separate government departments ten years later - 1903
 
Jimmy Hoffa born in Brazil, Ind., son of a coal miner. Disappeared July 30, 1975, declared dead seven years later - 1913
 
Striking workers at Detroit’s newspapers, out since the previous July, offer to return to work. The offer is accepted five days later but the newspapers vow to retain some 1,200 scabs. A court ruling the following year ordered as many as 1,100 former strikers reinstated - 1996

February 7, 2008

A huge explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery northwest of Savannah, Georgia, kills 14 and injures 38 people. The explosion was fueled by massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust throughout the packaging building. An investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board stated that the explosion had been “entirely preventable,” noting that the sugar industry had been aware of the risk of dust explosions since 1926.


Today in labor history for the week of February 1, 2016

February 01
Led by 23-year-old Kate Mullaney, the Collar Laundry Union forms in Troy, N.Y., and raises earnings for female laundry workers from $2 to $14 a week - 1864
 
Bricklayers begin working 8-hour days - 1867
 
Some 25,000 Paterson, N.J., silk workers strike for 8-hour work day and improved working conditions. Eighteen hundred were arrested over the course of the six-month walkout, led by the Wobblies. They returned to work on their employers’ terms - 1913
(In this expanded edition of Strike! you can read about 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 author also examines the ever-shifting roles and configurations of unions, from the Knights of Labor of the 1800s to the AFL-CIO of the 1990s. A new chapter, “Beyond One-Sided Class War,” looks at how modern protest movements, such as the Battle of Seattle and Occupy Wall Street, were ignited and considers the similarities between these challenges to authority and those of labor’s past.)

 
The federal minimum wage increases to $1.60 per hour - 1968
 
Int’l Brotherhood of Firemen & Oilers merges with Service Employees Int’l Union - 1995
 
February 02
Three hundred newsboys organize to protest a cut in pay by the Minneapolis Tribune - 1917
 
Legal secretary Iris Rivera fired for refusing to make coffee; secretaries across Chicago protest - 1977
 
The 170-day lockout (although management called it a strike) of 22,000 steelworkers by USX Corp. ends with a pay cut but greater job security.  It was the longest work stoppage in the history of the U.S. steel industry - 1987
 
February 03
The U.S. Supreme Court rules the United Hatters Union violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by organizing a nationwide boycott of Danbury Hatters of Connecticut - 1908
 
U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Wages and Hours (later Fair Labor Standards) Act banning child labor and establishing the 40-hour work week - 1941

An explosion at a Thiokol chemical plant near Woodbine, Georgia kills 29 workers, seriously injures 50.  An investigation found that contributing factors to the explosion were mislabeled chemicals, poor storage procedures and insufficient fire protection - 1971
 
February 04
The Ohio legislature authorizes construction of the 249-mile Miami and Erie Canal, to connect Toledo to Cincinnati.  Local historians say "Irish immigrants, convicts and local farmers used picks, shovels and wheelbarrows," at 30 cents per day, to construct the 249-mile-long waterway - 1825
 
"Big Bill" Haywood born in Salt Lake City, Utah: Leader of Western Federation of Miners, Wobblies (IWW) founder - 1869
 
Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a White man launched the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and the birth of the civil rights movement, is born in Tuskeege, Ala. - 1913
 
Unemployment demonstrations take place in major U.S. cities - 1932
 
Thirty-seven thousand maritime workers on the West Coast strike for wage increases - 1937
 
President Barack Obama imposes $500,000 caps on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money, saying Americans are upset with "executives being rewarded for failure" - 2009
 
February 05
First daily labor newspaper, N.Y. Daily Sentinel, begins publication - 1830
(Making the News: A Guide for Nonprofits and Activists: Tired of the union being ignored by your local media? Fed up with the way your employer’s side of the story always gets told...while the union side gets barely a passing mention, usually negative? Want to start your own labor-side publication?! You’ll want this book. Making the News explains the basics of how to talk to reporters, how to do a news release, ways to “create” a news event, how to get invited to—and sound good during—radio and TV interviews... it’s a true A to Z of media smarts.)
 
The movie Modern Times premieres. The tale of the tramp (Charlie Chaplin) and his paramour (Paulette Goddard) mixed slapstick comedy and social satire, as the couple struggled to overcome the difficulties of the machine age including unemployment and nerve-wracking factory work, and get along in modern times - 1937
 
President Bill Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act.  The law requires most employers of 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a family or medical emergency - 1993
 
In what turns out to be a bad business decision, Circuit City fires 3,900 experienced sales people because they're making too much in commissions. Sales plummet. Six years later it declares bankruptcy - 2003
 
February 06
Ironworkers from six cities meet in Pittsburgh to form the Int’l Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America. Their pay in Pittsburgh at the time: $2.75 for a 9-hour day - 1896
 
Philadelphia shirtwaist makers vote to accept arbitration offer and end walkout as Triangle Shirtwaist strike winds down. One year later 146 workers, mostly young girls aged 13 to 23, were to die in a devastating fire at Triangle’s New York City sweatshop - 1910

Seattle General Strike begins. The city was run by a General Strike Committee for six days as tens of thousands of union members stopped work in support of 32,000 striking longshoremen - 1919
 
February 07
Union miners in Cripple Creek, Colo., begin what is to become a five-month strike that started when mine owners cut wages to $2.50 a day, from $3.  The state militia was called out in support of the strikers—the only time in U.S. history that a militia was directed to side with the workers.  The strike ended in victory for the union - 1894

It took 1,231 firefighters 30 hours to put down The Great Baltimore Fire, which started on this day and destroyed 1,500 buildings over an area of some 140 acres - 1904
 
Hockey players formed the NHL Players Association in New York City after owners refuse to release pension plan financial information.  The union was busted when owners transferred key activists, but it successfully re-formed ten years later – 1957

Thirteen workers are killed, 42 injured in a dust explosion at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia.  Investigators found that the company had been aware of dangers for years but had not acted on them - 2008



January 26, 1897

The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America is chartered by the American Federation of Labor with seven locals, five of them composed of mostly skilled retail workers. In most meatpacking plants, unskilled workers were the majority. Of this majority, 60 percent earned less than $6 a week. Skilled workers were paid better, with their wages ranging from $3-$3.50 a day.


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