This week in labor history: May 27 – June 2

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MAY 27
1935 – The U.S. Supreme Court declares the Depression-era National Industrial Recovery Act to be unconstitutional, about a month before it was set to expire.
1959 – The CIO-affiliated Insurance Workers of America merges with its AFL counterpart, the Insurance Agents International Union to form the Insurance Workers International Union. The union later became part of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

MAY 28
1835 – The Ladies Shoe Binders Society formed in New York.
1912 – Fifteen women are dismissed from their jobs at the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia for dancing the Turkey Trot. They were on their lunch break, but management thought the dance too racy.
1946 – At least 30,000 workers in Rochester, N.Y., participate in a general strike in support of municipal workers who had been fired for forming a union.

MAY 29
1941 – Animators working for Walt Disney begin what was to become a successful five-week strike for recognition of their union, the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild. The animated feature Dumbo was being created at the time and, according to Wikipedia, a number of strikers are caricatured in the feature as clowns who go to “hit the big boss for a raise.”
1946 – A contract between the United Mine Workers and the U.S. government establishes one of the nation’s first union medical and pension plans, the multi-employer UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund.
1996 – The United Farm Workers of America reaches agreement with Bruce Church Inc. on a contract for 450 lettuce harvesters, ending a 17-year-long boycott. The pact raised wages, provided company-paid health benefits to workers and their families, created a seniority system to deal with seasonal layoffs and recalls, and established a pesticide monitoring system.
2009 – UAW members at General Motors accept major contract concessions in return for 17.5 percent stake in the financially struggling company.

MAY 30
1929 – The Ford Motor Company signs a “Technical Assistance” contract to produce cars in the Soviet Union, and Ford workers were sent to the Soviet Union to train the labor force in the use of its parts. Many American workers who made the trip, including Walter Reuther, a tool and die maker who later was to become the UAW’s president, returned home with a different view of the duties and privileges of the industrial laborer.
1937 – In what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre, police open fire on striking steelworkers at Republic Steel in South Chicago, killing ten and wounding more than 160.
2002 – The Ground Zero cleanup at the site of the World Trade Center is completed three months ahead of schedule due to the heroic efforts of more than 3,000 building tradesmen and women who worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the previous eight months.

MAY 31
1889 – The Johnstown Flood; more than 2,200 die when a dam holding back a private resort lake burst upstream of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The resort was owned by wealthy industrialists including Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Neither they nor any other members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club were found guilty of fault, despite the fact the group had created the lake out of an abandoned reservoir.
1943 – Some 25,000 white autoworkers walk off the job at a Detroit Packard Motor Car Co. plant, heavily involved in wartime production, when three black workers are promoted to work on a previously all-white assembly line. The black workers were relocated and the whites returned.

JUNE 1
1888 – The Ladies Federal Labor Union Number 2703, based in Illinois, was granted a charter from the American Federation of Labor. Women from a wide range of occupations were among the members, who ultimately were successful in coalescing women’s groups interested in suffrage, temperance, health, housing and child labor reform to win state legislation in these areas.
1898 – Congress passes the Erdman Act, providing for voluntary mediation or arbitration of railroad disputes and prohibiting contracts that discriminate against union labor or release employers from legal liability for on-the-job injuries.
1944 – Extinguishing the light of hope in the hearts and aspirations of workers around the world, the Mexican government abolishes siestas — a mid-afternoon nap and work break which lengthened the work day but got people through brutally hot summer days.
1966 – Farm workers under the banner of the new United Farm Workers Organizing Committee strike at Texas’s La Casita Farms, demand $1.25 as a minimum hourly wage.
2000 – Dakota Beef meatpackers win seven-hour sit-down strike over speed-ups, St. Paul, Minn.
2009 – General Motors files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The filing made the automaker the largest U.S. industrial company to enter bankruptcy protection. It went on to recover thanks to massive help from the UAW and the federal government.

JUNE 2
1786 – Twenty-six journeymen printers in Philadelphia stage the trade’s first strike in America over a cut in their $6 weekly pay.
1924 – A constitutional amendment declaring that “Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age” was approved by the Senate on this day, following the lead of the House five weeks earlier. Only 28 state legislatures ever ratified the amendment — the last three in 1937 — so it has never taken effect.
1952 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that President Harry Truman acted illegally when he ordered the Army to seize the nation’s steel mills to avert a strike.

(Labor History is provided by Union Communications Services, since 1981 North America’s premier publisher and distributor of newsletters, leadership training programs for shop stewards and officers, website materials and other powerful use-it-today strategies and tools to help leaders and activists build union power. Reach them at unionist.com.)

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