This week in labor history: May 6 – May 12

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MAY 6
1935 – 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.
1937 – 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.

MAY 7
1867 – 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.
1907 – 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.
1977 – Philadelphia’s longest transit strike ends after 44 days. A key issue in the fight was the hiring and use of part-timers.

MAY 8
1863 – The constitution of the Brotherhood of the Footboard is ratified by engineers in Detroit, Mich. Later became the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
1970 – About 200 construction workers in New York City attack a crowd of Vietnam war protesters four days after the Kent State killings. More than 70 people were injured, including four police officers. Peter Brennan, head of the New York building trades, was honored at the Nixon White House two weeks later, eventually named Secretary of Labor.
1997 – Some 12,000 Steelworker-represented workers at Goodyear Tire & Rubber win an 18-day strike for improved wages and job security.

MAY 9
1837 – The first Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women is held in New York City. Attendees included women of color, the wives and daughters of slaveholders, and women of low economic status.
1909 – 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.
1907 – 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.
1934 – Longshoremen’s strike to gain control of hiring leads to general work stoppage, San Francisco Bay area.
1937 – 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.
1971 – 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.
1972 – Four thousand garment workers, mostly Hispanic, strike for union recognition at the Farah Manufacturing Co. in El Paso, Texas.

MAY 10
1869 – 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 is finished by the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines at Promontory Point, Utah.
1898 – U.S. & Canadian workers form Western Labor Union. It favors industrial organization and independent Labor party politics.
2005 – A federal bankruptcy judge permits United Airlines to legally abandon responsibility for pensions covering 120,000 employees.

MAY 11
1894 – 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.
1953 – 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.

MAY 12
1958 – Laundry & Dry Cleaning Int’l Union granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.
1971 – Int’l Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots merges with Longshoremen’s Association.
2008 – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raid the Agriprocessors, Inc. slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, arresting nearly 400 immigrant workers. Some 300 are convicted on document fraud charges. The raid was the largest ever until that date. Several employees and lower and mid-level managers were convicted on various charges, but not the owner — although he later was jailed for bank fraud and related crimes.

(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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