This week in labor history: April 12-18

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APRIL 12
1858 A group of “puddlers” — craftsmen who manipulated pig iron to create steel—meet in a Pittsburgh bar and form The Iron City Forge of the Sons of Vulcan. It was the strongest union in the U.S. in the 1870s, later merging with two other unions to form what was to be the forerunner of the United Steelworkers.
1900 Birth of Florence Reece, active in Harlan County, Ky., coal strikes and author of famed labor song “Which Side Are You On?”
1909 The Union Label and Service Trades Department is founded by the American Federation of Labor. Its mission: promote the products and services of union members.
1912 Twenty “girl millworkers,” attempting to relieve striking pickets at the Garfield, New Jersey, mill of Forstmann and Huffmann, were beaten “when they did not move fast enough to suit” 30 special deputies who ordered them off the site, according to a news report.
1924 Chris Turner is born in Floyd, Va. He went on to become a NASCAR driver and attempted, along with Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock, to organize the other drivers into a union in 1961 in the hope of better purses, a share in broadcasting rights and retirement benefits for the drivers.  He was banned by NASCAR and was unsuccessful when he sued for reinstatement.  The court said he was an individual contractor, not an employee of NASCAR or any track.
1934 The Toledo (Ohio) Auto-Lite strike begins with 6,000 workers demanding union recognition and higher pay. The strike is notable for a five-day running battle in late May between the strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard. Known as the “Battle of Toledo,” the clash left two strikers dead and more than 200 injured.  The two-month strike, a win for the workers’ union, is regarded by many Labor historians as one of the nation’s three most important strikes.

APRIL 13
1903 Int’l Hod Carriers & Building Laborers’ Union (today’s Laborers’ Int’l Union) is founded, as 25 delegates from 23 local unions in 17 cities—representing 8,186 Laborers—meet in Washington, D.C.
1930 A 17-year-old Jimmy Hoffa leads his co-workers at a Kroger warehouse in Clinton, Indiana, in a successful job action. By refusing to unload a shipment of perishable strawberries, they forced the company to give in to their demands.  Among other things: the “strawberry boys” had to report to work at 4:30 a.m., stay on the job for 12 hours, and were paid 32 cents an hour — only if growers arrived with berries to unload.  Plus, they were required to spend three-fourths of any earnings buying goods from Kroger.
1919 Labor leader and Socialist Party founder Eugene V. Debs is imprisoned for opposing American entry into World War I. While in jail he ran for president, receiving one million votes.
2018 Teaching and research assistants at Harvard University vote to join the United Auto Workers.

APRIL 14
1930 More than 100 Mexican and Filipino farmworkers are arrested for union activities in Imperial Valley, Calif. Eight were convicted of “criminal syndicalism.”
1939 John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath published.
2005 The United Steelworkers and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers unions merge to form the largest industrial union in North America.

APRIL 15
1889 A. Philip Randolph, civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, born in Crescent City, Fla.
1912 Eight members of the Musicians union die in the sinking of the Titanic. According to survivors, they played their instruments until nearly the end. Five weeks later a concert organized by the union to benefit the musicians’ families, held in a theater donated for the evening by impresario Flo Ziegfeld, featured the talents of 500 musicians. The evening ended with a rendering of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the hymn being played as the ship went down. The union at the time was called the Musical Mutual Protective Union Local 310, the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Musicians.
1915 IWW union Agricultural Workers Organization formed in Kansas City, Mo.
1916 Teacher unionists gather at the City Club on Plymouth Court in Chicago to form a new national union: the American Federation of Teachers.
1919 Start of ultimately successful six-day strike across New England by one of the earliest women-led American unions, the Telephone Operators Department of IBEW.
1955 The first McDonald’s restaurant opens, in Des Plaines, Ill., setting the stage years later for sociologist Amitai Etzioni to coin the term “McJob.” As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a McJob is “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

APRIL 16
1916 Employers lock out 25,000 New York City garment workers in a dispute over hiring practices. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union calls a general strike; after 14 weeks, 60,000 strikers win union recognition and the contractual right to strike.
1947 Five hundred workers in Texas City, Texas die in a series of huge oil refinery and chemical plant explosions and fires.
2000 An estimated 20,000 global justice activists blockade Washington, D.C., meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

APRIL 17
1905 The Supreme Court holds that a maximum-hours law for New York bakery workers is unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
2013 An explosion at a west Texas fertilizer plant kills 15 people and injures nearly 300 when 30 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate—stored in sheds without sprinkler systems — catches fire.  Of those killed, ten were emergency responders.

APRIL 18
1912 West Virginia coal miners strike, defend selves against National Guard.
1941 After a four-week boycott led by Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., bus companies in New York City agree to hire 200 Black drivers and mechanics.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder of Union Communication Services)

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