This week in labor history: April 5-11

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APRIL 5
1956 – Columnist Victor Riesel, a crusader against mob infiltration of unions, was blinded in New York City when an assailant threw sulfuric acid in his face. He was also an FBI informer for decades, a proponent of the McCarthy era blacklisting that weakened unions for over a generation, and a crusader against unions connecting with anti-war student activism in the 1960’s and 70’s.
2001 – Some 14,000 teachers strike Hawaii schools, colleges.
2010 – A huge underground explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, W. Va., kills 29 miners. It was the worst U.S. mine disaster in 40 years. The Massey Energy Co. mine had been cited for two safety infractions the day before the blast; 57 the month before, and 1,342 in the previous five years. Six years later Massey’s CEO at the time of the disaster, Don Blankenship, was sentenced to one year in jail.

APRIL 6
1905 – A sympathy strike by Chicago Teamsters in support of clothing workers leads to daily clashes of strikebreakers and armed police against hundreds and sometimes thousands of striking workers and their supporters. By the time the fight ended after 103 days, 21 people had been killed and 416 injured.
1937 – Fifty workers at Connecticut Automotive Specialty Company (Casco) in Bridgeport, Conn. conduct a sit-down strike to win recognition of the UE as their bargaining agent while other workers and allies picket outside the plant. Within 24 hours they won a wage increase and union recognition.
2006 – What was to become a two-month strike by minor league umpires begins, largely over money: $5,500 to $15,000 for a season running 142 games. The strike ended with a slight improvement in pay.

APRIL 7
1947 – National Labor Relations Board attorney tells ILWU members to “lie down like good dogs,” Juneau, Alaska.
1947 – Some 300,000 members of the National Federation of Telephone Workers, soon to become CWA, strike AT&T and the Bell System. Within five weeks all but two of the 39 federation unions had won new contracts.
2000 – Fifteen thousand union janitors strike, Los Angeles.

APRIL 8
1911 – A total of 128 convict miners, leased to a coal company under the state’s shameful convict lease system, are killed in an explosion at the Banner coal mine outside Birmingham, Ala. The miners were mostly African-Americans jailed for minor offenses.
1918 – President Wilson establishes the War Labor Board, composed of representatives of business and Labor, to arbitrate disputes between workers and employers during World War I.
1935 – The Works Progress Administration (WPA) is approved by Congress. President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the WPA during the Great Depression of the 1930s when almost 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. It created low-paying federal jobs providing immediate relief, putting 8.5 million jobless to work on projects ranging from construction of bridges, highways and public buildings to arts programs like the Federal Writers Project.
1952 – President Harry Truman orders the U.S. Army to seize the nation’s steel mills to avert a strike. The Supreme Court ruled the act illegal three weeks later.

APRIL 9
1930 – IWW organizes the 1,700-member crew of the Leviathan, then the world’s largest vessel.

APRIL 10
1880 – Birth date of Frances Perkins, named Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, becoming the first woman to hold a cabinet-level office.
1917 – A total of 133 people, mostly women and girls, are killed when an explosion in the loading room tears apart the Eddystone Ammunition Works in Eddystone, Pa., near Chester. Of the dead, 55 were never identified.
1997 – Dancers from the Lusty Lady Club in San Francisco’s North Beach ratify their first-ever union contract by a vote of 57-15, having won representation by SEIU Local 790 the previous summer. The club, which later became a worker-owned cooperative, closed in 2013.
2006 – Tens of thousands of immigrants demonstrate in 100 U.S. cities in a national day of action billed as a campaign for immigrants’ dignity. Some 200,000 gathered in Washington, D.C.

APRIL 11
1941 – Ford Motor Company signs first contract with United Auto Workers.
1947 – Jackie Robinson, first Black ballplayer hired by a major league team, plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field.
1974 – United Mine Workers President W. A. “Tony” Boyle is found guilty of first-degree murder, for ordering the 1969 assassination of union reformer Joseph A. “Jock” Yablonski. Yablonski, his wife and daughter were murdered Dec. 30, 1969. Boyle had defeated Yablonski in the UMW election earlier in the year — an election marred by intimidation and vote fraud. That election was set aside, and a later vote was won by reformer Arnold Miller.
1980 – Some 34,000 New York City Transit Authority workers, 11 days into a strike for higher wages, end their walkout with agreement on a nine percent increase in the first year and eight percent in the second, along with cost-of-living protections.
1980 – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issues regulations prohibiting sexual harassment of workers by supervisors in the workplace.
1986 – Police in Austin, Minn. tear-gas striking Hormel meatpacking workers. Seventeen strikers are arrested on felony riot charges.
1997 – Some 25,000 marchers in Watsonville, Calif., show support for United Farm Workers organizing campaign among strawberry workers, others.

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

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