History’s first recorded (on papyrus) strike, by Egyptians working on public works projects for King Ramses III in the Valley of the Kings. They were protesting having gone 20 days without pay—portions of grain—and put down their tools. Exact date estimated, described as within “the sixth month of the 29th year” of Ramses’ reign—1170BC—in The Spirit of Ancient Egypt, by Ana Ruiz. Scholar John Romer adds inAncient Lives: The Story of the Pharaoh’s Tombmakers that the strike so terrified the authorities they gave in and raised wages. Romer believes it happened a few years later, on Nov. 14, 1152 B.C.
Troops are dispatched to Cripple Creek, Colo., to control protests by striking coal miners – 1903
Mine Workers President John L. Lewis walks away from the American Federation of Labor to lead the newly-formed Committee for Industrial Organization. The CIO and the unions created under its banner organized six million industrial workers over the following decade – 1935
The first meeting between members of the newly-formed National Football League Players Association and team owners takes place in New York. Union founders included Frank Gifford, Norm Van Brocklin, Don Shula and Kyle Rote. They were asking for a minimum $5,000 salary, a requirement that their teams pay for their equipment, and a provision for the continued payment of salary to injured players. The players’ initial demands were ignored – 1956
Led by Samuel Gompers, who would later found the American Federation of Labor, Cigarmakers’ Int’l Union Local 144 is chartered in New York City – 1875
Some 10,000 New Orleans workers, Black and White, participate in a solidarity parade of unions comprising the Central Trades and Labor Assembly. The parade was so successful it was repeated the following two years – 1883
Teachers strike in St. Paul, Minn., the first organized walkout by teachers in the country. The month-long “strike for better schools” involving some 1,100 teachers—and principals—led to a number of reforms in the way schools were administered and operated – 1946
(In Reviving the Strike: How Working People can Regain Power and Transform America, author Joe Burns says if the American labor movement is to rise again it will not be as a result of electing Democrats, the passage of legislation, or improved methods of union organizing. Rather, workers will need to rediscover the power of the strike. Not the ineffectual strike of today, where employees meekly sit on picket lines waiting for scabs to take their jobs, but the type of strike capable of grinding industries to a halt—the kind employed up until the 1960s.)
Nearly 1,550 typesetters begin what is to become a victorious 22-month strike against Chicago newspapers – 1947
George Meany becomes president of the American Federation of Labor following the death four days earlier of William Green – 1952
Canadian postal workers, protesting a Post Office decision to offer discounts to businesses but not individuals, announce that for one week they will unilaterally reduce postage costs by about two-thirds. Declared the Canadian Union of Postal Workers: “(M)embers of the general public, not businesses, can mail letters with 10 cents postage and postal workers will process them without taxing them for insufficient postage” – 1983
Six young women burn to death and 19 more die when they leap from the fourth-story windows of a blazing factory in Newark, N.J. The floors and stairs were wooden; the only door through which the women could flee was locked – 1910
(Are You Prepared? A Guide to Emergency Planning in the Workplace: Today’s headlines, much like those of yester-year, are filled with disaster, from the natural—fire, flood, hurricane, tornado and the like—to the man-made, such as workplace shootings, explosions, accidental releases of toxic chemicals or radiation, even nightmares such as bombings. Are you and your co-workers prepared to respond quickly and safely if disaster strikes? Steps you take today can save lives tomorrow, from having escape plans to knowing how to quickly turn off power and fuel supplies. Includes helpful checklists. Published by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.)
Some 1,200 workers sit down at Midland Steel, forcing recognition of the United Auto Workers, Detroit – 1936
The pro-labor musical revue, “Pins & Needles,” opens on Broadway with a cast of Int’l Ladies Garment Workers Union members. The show ran on Friday and Saturday nights only, because of the cast’s regular jobs. It ran for 1,108 performances before closing – 1937
William Sylvis, founder of the National Labor Union, born – 1828
National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, precursor to IBEW, founded – 1891
A total of 154 men die in a coal mine explosion at Marianna, Pa. Engineer and General Superintendent A.C. Beeson tells the local newspaper he had been in the mine a few minutes before the blast and had found it to be in perfect condition – 1908
Some 400 New York City photoengravers working for the city’s newspapers, supported by 20,000 other newspaper unionists, begin what is to become an 11-day strike, shutting down the papers – 1953
Clerks, teamsters and building service workers at Boston Stores in Milwaukee strike at the beginning of the Christmas rush. The strike won widespread support—at one point 10,000 pickets jammed the sidewalks around the main store—but ultimately was lost. Workers returned to the job in mid-January with a small pay raise and no union recognition – 1934
The SS Daniel J. Morrell, a 603-foot freighter, breaks in two during a strong storm on Lake Huron. Twenty-eight of its 29 crewmen died; survivor Daniel Hale was found the next day, near frozen and floating in a life raft with the bodies of three of his crew mates. He had survived for nearly 40 hours in frigid temperatures wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, a life jacket, and a pea coat – 1966
National Labor Relations Board rules that medical interns can
Striking garment worker and International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union organizer Clara Lemlich delivers an impassioned speech for a general strike to support her co-workers who had gone out on strike in early November for better wages, working conditions, and hours. The next day, 20,000 shirtwaist workers took to the streets of New York. An estimated 30,000 workers participated in the 11-week long strike.
Rose Pesotta — union organizer, anarchist, and vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union — is born. Pesotta began working in a shirtwaist factory in New York in 1913 and there became involved with ILGWU Local 25. She went on to organize tirelessly for the union around the country and in 1934 was elected vice president of the ILGWU, the first woman to hold that position. [Photo: Pesotta taken into custody during the 1941 Los Angeles garment strike; she was charged with battery of a police officer.]
As Supreme Court Prepares for Friedrichs v. CTA,
Public-Sector Workers Advance the Common Good
WASHINGTON, DC – America’s working families are under attack from big corporate CEOs and wealthy special interests. These anti-worker attacks are designed to protect those at the very top who yield greater influence and profit, while hard-working families scrape by. One such attack is being led by corporate-funded groups at the US Supreme Court. These groups want to take away workers’ ability to speak up together.
The following are examples of public-sector workers using their voice on the job to help advance the common good in the face of these well-funded, extreme attacks.
Seattle Teachers Take a Stand for Class Size: Earlier this summer, thousands of teachers in Seattle, WA walked out of their classrooms in a series of protests, standing with parents against larger class sizes that would negatively impact students. Area teachers, who also stood up for good pay and benefits, received the support of Seattle area parents who cited solidarity with teachers on key issues.
West Virginia Teachers Lead the Way to Improve Local Schools: Beginning in 2011, teachers belonging to the American Federation of Teachers have organized an effort called ‘Reconnecting McDowell’, which focuses on improving education in McDowell County, WV. McDowell County, one of the poorest in the nation, has benefitted from a broad coalition of business, non-profits, government, and working people to bring new resources and expertise to West Virginia’s children.
Nurses Push for Higher Safety Standards in Midst of Health Crisis: During last year’s international Ebola crisis, nurses and first responders throughout the United States led the call for higher safety standards and better training. The calls, which included walkouts and protests, resulted in an advanced awareness among the general public of the dangers facing public servants, and efforts to improve conditions and preparation.
Working Families Step Up and Give Back in the Face of Disaster: From hurricanes to tornados, working families have stepped up over the years to rally their communities and give back in the wake of natural disasters. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, working people belonging to AFSCME, AFT, and other unions joined together to raise funds and awareness for those in need. Beyond financial assistance, union members also pitched-in to assist with cleanup and rebuilding efforts throughout the impacted region.
Study Shows Teachers Spending Hard-Earned Money to Help Their Own Students: An August study by Public Opinion Strategies and Communities in Schools showed that over 90 percent of teachers reported spending their own money on school supplies for students in 2014. The study shows that teachers are going above-and-beyond at a time when families spend approximately $1,284 per high school student per year for supplies and extracurricular activities.
Postal Workers Offer Critical Services for Those In Need: The thousands of working people who make up our postal service don’t only deliver your packages and letters; they also play a significant role in standing up for those who need it most. Postal workers are leading an effort to provide an alternative to predatory payday lenders by expanding key services at US Postal Service locations such as payroll check cashing and bill payment. In addition, America’s letter carriers have collected more than 1.4 billion pounds of food in the last 24 years for needy families through their annual food drive.
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer and songwriter Joe Hill is executed in Utah after having been framed on a murder charge. While in prison, Hill sent a telegram to IWW leader Big Bill Haywood: “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize!” In a later telegram, he added, “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”
Viljo Rosvall and Janne Voutilainen – two Finnish-Canadian members of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union of Canada from Thunder Bay, Ontario – disappear on their way to recruit sympathetic bushworkers for a strike. Their bodies were found at Onion Lake by a union search party the following spring and the community suspected that they had been murdered by company thugs.