This week in labor history: August 30 – September 6

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AUGUST 31
1921Some 10,000 striking miners begin a fight at Blair Mountain, W.Va., for recognition of their union, the United Mine Workers of America. Federal troops were sent in and miners were forced to withdraw five days later, after 16 deaths.
1980 “Solidarity” workers movement is founded as a strike coordination committee at Lenin Shipyards, Gdansk, Poland. The strike launched a wave of unrest in the Soviet Union that ultimately led to its dissolution in 1991.
1991 An estimated 325,000 unionists gather in Washington, D.C., for a Solidarity Day march and rally for workplace fairness and healthcare reform.
1999 Detroit teachers begin what is to become a nine-day strike, winning smaller class sizes and raises of up to four percent.

SEPTEMBER 1
1893 The Int’l Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers is founded at a meeting in Chicago, the product of two separate brotherhoods created over the previous 13 years.
1894 Congress declares Labor Day a national holiday.
1903 Some 30,000 women from 26 trades march in Chicago’s Labor Day parade.
1907 Walter Reuther is born. He went on to become a founder of the United Auto Workers and was president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations when it merged with the AFL in 1955.
1934 A three-week strike in Woonsocket, R.I., part of a national movement to obtain a minimum wage for textile workers, resulted in the deaths of three workers. Ultimately more than 420,000 workers struck nationally.
1946 In Hawaii, some 26,000 sugar workers represented by the Longshoremen’s union begin what is to become a successful 79-day strike that shuts down 33 of the 34 sugar plantations on the islands. The strike brought an end to Hawaii’s paternalistic labor relations and impacted political and social institutions throughout the then-territory.
1956 Int’l Metal Engravers & Marking Device Workers Union changes its name to Int’l Association of Machinists.
1960 Some 20,000 Pennsylvania Railroad shop workers effectively halt operations in 13 states for 12 days. It was the first shutdown in the company’s 114-year history.
1977 Boot Shoe Workers’ Union merges with Retail Clerks Int’l Union.
2003 The AFL-CIO creates Working America, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization designed to build alliances among non-union working people.
2013 Margaret Mary Vojtko dies at age 83 in Homestead, Pa. She was an adjunct professor of French and medieval literature at Duquesne Unversity for 25 years — a pay-by-the-courses-taught part-timer with no benefits — before being told her contract wouldn’t be renewed, but was offered a tutoring job at two-thirds her old salary. She was making so little that she slept in her office, being unable to afford to heat her home because of medical bills. She had been active in trying to form an adjuncts union. She died five months after being fired.

SEPTEMBER 2
1885White and Chinese immigrants battle in Rock Springs, Wyo., fueled by racial tensions and the practice of Union Pacific Railroad of hiring lower-paid Chinese over whites. At least 25 Chinese died and 15 more were injured. Rioters burned 75 Chinese homes.
1916 Operating railway employees win eight-hour day.
1921 Mine owners bomb West Virginia strikers by plane, using homemade bombs filled with nails and metal fragments. The bombs missed their targets or failed to explode.
1954 President Eisenhower signs legislation expanding Social Security by providing much wider coverage and including 10 million additional Americans, most of them self-employed farmers, with additional benefits.

1974 The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is signed by President Ford, regulating and insuring pensions and other benefits, and increasing protections for workers.

SEPTEMBER 3
1891 African-American cotton pickers organize and strike in Lee County, Texas, against miserably low wages and other injustices, including a growers’ arrangement with local law enforcement to round up Blacks on vagrancy charges, then force them to work off their fines on select plantations. Over the course of September a white mob put down the strike, killing 15 strikers in the process.
1928 Some 300 musicians working in Chicago movie houses strike to protest their impending replacement by talking movies.
1991 Twenty-five workers die, unable to escape a fire at the Imperial Poultry processing plant in Hamlet, N.C. Managers had locked fire doors to prevent the theft of chicken nuggets. The plant had operated for 11 years without a single safety inspection.

SEPTEMBER 4
1894 Twelve thousand New York tailors strike over sweatshop conditions.
1949 More than 140 attendees at a benefit for a civil rights group are injured in the “Peekskill Riots” in Peekskill, N.Y. The victims were among the 20,000 people leaving a concert featuring African-American Paul Robeson, well-known for his strong pro-unionism, civil rights activism and left-wing affiliations. The departing concert-goers had to drive through a miles-long gauntlet of rock-throwing racists and others chanting,“Go on back to Russia, you niggers” and “white niggers.”
1991 In what many believe was to become the longest strike in U.S. history, 600 Teamster-represented workers walk out at the Diamond Walnut processing plant in Stockton, Calif., after the company refused to restore a 30 percent pay cut they had earlier taken to help out the company. The two sides ultimately agreed to a new contract after 14 years.

SEPTEMBER 5
1882 Between 20,000 and 30,000 marchers participate in New York’s first Labor Day parade, demanding the eight-hour day.
1917 “Palmer raids” on all Wobbly halls and offices in 48 cities in the U.S. Alexander Palmer, U.S. Attorney General, was rounding up radicals and leftists.
1934 Ten thousand angry textile strikers, fighting for better wages and working conditions, besiege a factory in Fall River, Mass., where 300 strikebreakers were working. The scabs are rescued by police using tear gas and pistols on the strikers.
1946 General strike begins across U.S. maritime industry, stopping all shipping. The strikers were objecting to the government’s post-war National Wage Stabilization Board order that reduced pay increases negotiated by maritime unions.

SEPTEMBER 6
1869 One of the worst disasters in the history of U.S. anthracite mining occurs at the Avondale Mine, near Scranton, Pa., when a fire originating from a furnace at the bottom of a 237-foot shaft roared up the shaft, killing 110 miners.
1973 Tony Boyle, former president of the United Mine Workers, is charged with murder in the 1969 deaths of former UMW rival Joseph A. Yablonski and his wife and daughter.
2018 Unions representing some 38,000 employees at Walt Disney World negotiate a new contract that will raise minimum pay, in stepped increases, to $15 an hour by October 2021. The minimum had been $10 per hour.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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