This week in labor history: August 12-18

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AUGUST 12
1898 – Coal company guards kill seven, wound 40 striking miners who are trying to stop scabs, Virden, Ill.
1919 – With the news that their boss, Florenz Ziegfeld, was joining the Producing Managers’ Association, the chorus girls in his Ziegfield Follies create their own union, the Chorus Equity Association. They were helped by a big donation from superstar and former chorus girl Lillian Russell. In 1955 the union merged with the Actor’s Equity Association.
1955 – Teamsters official William Grami is kidnapped, bound and beaten near Sebastopol, Calif. He was leading a drive to organize apple plant workers in the area.
1992 – The North American Free Trade Agreement — NAFTA — is concluded between the United States, Canada and Mexico, to take effect in January 1994, despite protests from Labor, environmental and human rights groups.
1994 – What was to become a 232-day strike by major league baseball players over owners’ demands for team salary caps begins; 938 games were cancelled.

AUGUST 13
1892 – Striking miners at Tracy City, Tenn., capture their mines and free 300 state convict strikebreakers. The convicts had been “leased” to mine owners by officials in an effort to make prisons self-supporting and make a few bucks for the state. The practice started in 1866 and lasted for 30 years
1936 – Newspaper Guild members begin three-month strike of Hearst-owned Seattle Post-Intelligencer, shutting the publication down in their successful fight for union recognition.
1963 – Civil rights leader and union president A. Philip Randolph strongly protests the AFL-CIO Executive Council’s failure to endorse the Aug. 28 “March on Washington.”
1979 – Five construction workers are killed, 16 injured when the uncompleted roof of the Rosemont (Ill.) Horizon arena collapses.

AUGUST 14
1935 – President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, providing, for the first time ever, guaranteed income for retirees and creating a system of unemployment benefits.
1980 – Members of the upstart Polish union Solidarity seize the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. Sixteen days later the government officially recognizes the union. Many consider the event the beginning of the end for the Iron Curtain.

AUGUST 15
1248 – To begin what proved to become one of the world’s longest construction projects, workers lay the foundation stone of Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, built to house the relics of the Three Wise Men. The job was declared completed in 1880 — 632 years later.
1914 – The Panama Canal opens after 33 years of construction and an estimated 22,000 worker deaths, mostly caused by malaria and yellow fever. The 51-mile canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
1935 – Populist social commentator Will Rogers is killed in a plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska. One of his many classic lines: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
1971 – President Richard M. Nixon announces a 90-day freeze on wages, prices and rents in an attempt to combat inflation.
1989 – Gerry Horgan, chief steward of CWA Local 1103 and NYNEX striker in Valhalla, N.Y., is struck on the picket line by a car driven by the daughter of a plant manager and dies the following day. What was to become a four-month strike over healthcare benefits was in its second week.
2008 – Eight automotive department employees at a Walmart near Ottawa win an arbitrator-imposed contract after voting for UFCW representation, becoming the giant retailer’s only location in North America with a collective bargaining agreement. Two months later the company closed the department. Three years earlier Walmart had closed an entire store on the same day the government announced an arbitrator would impose a contract agreement there.

AUGUST 16
1894 – George Meany, plumber, first AFL-CIO president, born in City Island, Bronx. In his official biography, George Meany and His Times, he said, “You only make progress by fighting for progress.” Meany served as secretary-treasurer of the AFL from 1940 to 1952, succeeded as president of the AFL, and then continued as president of the AFL-CIO following the historic merger in 1955 until retiring in 1979.
1937 – Congress passes the National Apprenticeship Act, establishing a national advisory committee to research and draft regulations establishing minimum standards for apprenticeship programs. It was later amended to permit the Labor Department to issue regulations protecting the health, safety and general welfare of apprentices, and to encourage the use of contracts in their hiring and employment.

AUGUST 17
1918 – Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) war trials in Chicago – 95 go to prison for up to 20 years.
1985 – Year-long Hormel meatpackers’ strike begins in Austin, Minn.

AUGUST 18
1927 – Radio station WEVD, named for Eugene V. Debs, goes on the air in New York City, operated by The Forward Association as a memorial to the Labor and socialist leader.

(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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