This week in labor history: August 16-22

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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 he had “never walked a picket line in his life.” He also said he took part in only one strike (against the United States Government to get higher pay for plumbers on welfare jobs). Yet he also firmly said that “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
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.

AUGUST 19
1909 First edition of IWW Little Red Song Book published.
1917 Some 2,000 United Railroads streetcar service workers and supporters parade down San Francisco’s Market Street in support of pay demands and against the company’s anti-union policies. The strike failed in late November in the face of more than 1,000 strikebreakers, some of them imported from Chicago.
1946 Founding of the Maritime Trades Dept., AFL, to give “workers employed in the maritime industry and its allied trades a voice in shaping national policy.”
1983 Phelps-Dodge copper miners in Morenci and Clifton, Ariz., are confronted by tanks, helicopters, 426 state troopers and 325 National Guardsmen brought in to walk strikebreakers through picket lines in what was to become a failed three-year fight by the Steelworkers and other unions.
2005 Some 4,400 mechanics, cleaners and custodians, members of AMFA at Northwest Airlines, strike the carrier over job security, pay cuts and work rule changes. The 14-month strike was to fail, with most union jobs lost to replacements and outside contractors.

AUGUST 20
1910 The Great Fire of 1910, a wildfire that consumed about three million acres in Washington, Idaho and Montana — an area about the size of Connecticut — claimed the lives of 78 fire fighters over two days. It is believed to be the largest, although not deadliest, fire in U.S. history.
1986 Relief postal service carrier Patrick “Crazy Pat” Henry Sherrill shoots and kills 14 coworkers, and wounds another six, before killing himself at an Edmond, Okla., postal facility. Supervisors had ignored warning signs of Sherrill’s instability, investigators later found; the shootings came a day after he had been reprimanded for poor work. The incident inspired the objectionable term “going postal.”

AUGUST 21
1831 Slave revolt led by Nat Turner begins in Southampton County, Va.
2018 An unknown number of prisoners across the United States begin what is to be a five-day strike in support of 10 demands, one of them being what they call “prison slavery” – no or virtually no pay for work performed both in and outside their institutions. One example cited was being paid $1.45 a day for fighting forest fires.

AUGUST 22
1945 Five flight attendants form the Air Line Stewardesses Association, the first labor union representing flight attendants. They were reacting to an industry in which women were forced to retire at the age of 32, remain single, and adhere to strict weight, height and appearance requirements. The association later became the Association of Flight Attendants, now a division of the Communications Workers of America.
1963 Int’l Broom & Whisk Makers Union disbands.
1980 Joyce Miller, a vice president of the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers, becomes first female member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council.
1986 The Kerr-McGee Corp. agrees to pay the estate of the late Karen Silkwood $1.38 million, settling a 10-year-old nuclear contamination lawsuit. She was a union activist who died in 1974 under suspicious circumstances on her way to talk to a reporter about safety concerns at her plutonium fuel plant in Oklahoma.

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

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