This week in labor history: April 29-May 5

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APRIL 29
1894 – Coxey’s Army of 500 unemployed Civil War veterans reaches Washington, D.C.
1899 – An estimated 1,000 silver miners, angry over low wages, the firing of union members and the planting of spies in their ranks by mine owners, seize a train, load it with 3,000 pounds of dynamite, and blow up the mill at the Bunker Hill mine in Wardner, Idaho.
1943 – The special representative of the National War Labor Board issues a report, “Retroactive Date for Women’s Pay Adjustments,” setting forth provisions for wage rates for women working in war industries who were asking for equal pay. Women a year earlier had demanded equal pay for comparable work as that done by men.

APRIL 30
1927 – An explosion at the Everettville mine in Everettville, W. Va., kills 109 miners, many of whom lie in unmarked graves to this day.
2012 – The Obama administration’s National Labor Relations Board implements new rules to speed up unionization elections. The new rules are largely seen as a counter to employer manipulation of the law to prevent workers from unionizing.

MAY 1
1830 – Mary Harris “Mother” Jones born in County Cork, Ireland.
1883 – Cigar makers in Cincinnati warn there could be a strike in the fall if factory owners continue to insist that they pay 30 cents per month for gas heat provided at work during mornings and evenings.
1886 – Eight-hour day demonstration in Chicago and other cities begins tradition of May Day as international Labor holiday.
1901 – The Cooks’ and Waiters’ Union strikes in San Francisco, demanding one day of rest per week, a 10-hour work day and a union shop for all restaurants in the city.
1930 – Mother Jones’ 100th birthday celebrated at the Burgess Farm in Adelphi, Md. She died six months later.
1931 – New York City’s Empire State Building officially opens. Construction involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, and hundreds of Mohawk iron workers. Five workers died during construction.
1974 – Congress enacts amendments to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, extending protections to the employees of state and local governments — protections which didn’t take effect until 1985 because of court challenges and regulation-writing problems.
1974 – The federal minimum wage rises to $2 per hour.
2006 – Rallies in cities across the U.S. for what organizers call “A Day Without Immigrants.” An estimated 100,000 immigrants and sympathizers gathered in San Jose, Calif., 200,000 in New York, and 400,000 each in Chicago and Los Angeles. In all, there were demonstrations in at least 50 cities.

MAY 2
1867 – Chicago’s first Trades Assembly, formed three years earlier, sponsors a general strike by thousands of workers to enforce the state’s new eight-hour-day law. The one-week strike was unsuccessful.
1830 – Birth of Richard Trevellick, a ship carpenter, founder of American National Labor Union and later head of the National Labor Congress, America’s first national Labor organization.
1911 – First Workers’ Compensation law in U.S. enacted, in Wisconsin.
1930 – President Herbert Hoover declares that the stock market crash six months earlier was just a “temporary setback” and the economy would soon bounce back. In fact, the Great Depression was to continue and worsen for several more years.
1933 – German police units occupied all trade unions headquarters in the country, arresting union officials and leaders. Their treasuries were confiscated, and the unions abolished. Hitler announced that the German Labour Front, headed by his appointee, would replace all unions and look after the working class.
1972 – A fire at the Sunshine silver mine in Kellogg, Idaho, caused the death of 91 workers who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, likely caused by toxic fumes emitted by burning polyurethane foam, used as a fire retardant.

MAY 3
1886 – Four striking workers were killed, at least 200 wounded, when police attacked a demonstration on Chicago’s south side at the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant. The Haymarket Massacre took place the following day.
1895 – Eugene V. Debs and other leaders of the American Railway Union are jailed for six months for contempt of court in connection with Pullman railroad car strike.

MAY 4
1886 – Haymarket massacre – a bomb is thrown as Chicago police start to break up a rally for strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. A riot erupts and 11 police and strikers die, mostly from gunfire. Scores more are injured.

MAY 5
1852 – National Typographical Union founded, Cincinnati, Ohio. It was renamed the Int’l Typographical Union in 1869, in acknowledgment of Canadian members. When the ITU merged into CWA in 1986 it was the oldest existing union in the U.S.
1886 – On Chicago’s West Side, police attack Jewish workers as they try to march into the Loop to protest slum conditions.
1886 – Some 14,000 building trades workers and laborers, demanding an eight-hour work day, gather at the Milwaukee Iron Co. rolling mill in Bay View, Wisc. When they approach the mill, they are fired on by 250 National Guardsmen under orders from the governor to shoot to kill. Seven die, including a 13-year-old boy.
1888 – Nineteen machinists working for the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad gather in a locomotive pit to decide what to do about a wage cut. They vote to form a union, which later became the Int’l Association of Machinists.
1920 – Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are arrested in Boston for murder and payroll robbery, a crime for which they are executed, but most believe they did not commit.
1931 – Heavily armed deputies and other mine owner hirelings attack striking miners in Harlan County, Ky., starting the Battle of Harlan County.
1934 – John J. Sweeney, president of the Service Employees Int’l Union from 1980 to 1995, then president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009, born in the Bronx, N.Y.
1937 – Lumber strike begins in Pacific Northwest. It would involve 40,000 workers by the time victory was achieved, after 13 weeks, with union recognition, a 50-cent-per-hour minimum wage and an eight-hour day.

(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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