This week in labor history: December 16-22

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DECEMBER 16
1900 – The National Civic Federation is formed by business and Labor leaders, most prominently AFL president Sam Gompers, as a vehicle to resolve conflicts between management and Labor. Not all unionists agreed with the alliance. The group turned increasingly conservative and Labor withdrew after Gompers’ 1924 death.
1902 – New York City’s Majestic Theater becomes first in the U.S. to employ women ushers.
1951 – The New York Times reported the Bagel Bakers of America union were continuing a work slowdown at 32 of New York’s 34 bagel bakeries in a dispute over health and welfare fund payments and workplace sanitation. Coincidentally – or not – lox sales were down 30 percent to 50 percent as well. The effect on the cream cheese market was not reported.
1968 – Four railway unions merge to become the United Transportation Union: Trainmen, Firemen & Enginemen, Switchmen, and Conductors and Brakemen.
1977 – Eight female bank tellers in Willmar, Minn., begin the first strike against a bank in U.S. history. At issue: they were paid little more than half what male tellers were paid. The strike ended in moral victory but economic defeat two years later.

DECEMBER 17
1996 – Int’l Union of Aluminum, Brick & Glass Workers merges with United Steelworkers of America.

DECEMBER 18
1991 – General Motors announces it is closing 21 North American plants over the following four years and slashing tens of thousands of jobs.

DECEMBER 19
1907 – An explosion in the Darr Mine in Westmoreland Co., Pa., kills 239 coal miners. Seventy-one of the dead share a common grave in Olive Branch Cemetery. December 1907 was the worst month in U.S. coal mining history, with more than 3,000 dead.
1983 – A 47-day strike at Greyhound Bus Lines ends with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union accepting a new contract containing deep cuts in wages and benefits. Striker Ray Phillips died during the strike, run over on a picket line by a scab Greyhound trainee.
1984 – Twenty-six men and one woman are killed in the Wilberg Coal Mine Disaster near Orangeville, Utah. The disaster has been termed the worst coal mine fire in the state’s history. Federal mine safety officials issued 34 safety citations after the disaster but had inspected the mine only days before and declared it safe.

DECEMBER 20
1899 – Delegates to the AFL convention in Salt Lake City endorse a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote.
1906 – The first group of 15 Filipino plantation workers recruited by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association arrive in Hawaii. By 1932 more than 100,000 Filipinos will be working in the fields.
2005 – Thousands of workers began what was to be a two-day strike of the New York City transit system over retirement, pension and wage issues. The strike violated the state’s Taylor Law; TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint was jailed for 10 days and the union was fined $2.5 million.

DECEMBER 21
1790 – Powered by children seven to 12 years old working dawn to dusk, Samuel Slater’s thread-spinning factory goes into production in Pawtucket, R.I., launching the Industrial Revolution in America. By 1830, 55 percent of the mill workers in the state were youngsters, many working for less than $1 per week.
1921 – Supreme Court rules that picketing is unconstitutional. Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft declared that picketing was, in part, “an unlawful annoyance and hurtful nuisance…”

DECEMBER 22
1897 – A group of building trades unions from the Midwest meet in St. Louis to form the National Building Trades Council. The Council disbanded after several years of political and jurisdictional differences.
1910 – Twenty-one Chicago fire fighters, including the chief, died when a building collapsed as they were fighting a huge blaze at the Union Stock Yards. By the time the fire was extinguished, 26 hours after the first alarm, 50 engine companies and seven hook-and-ladder companies had been called to the scene. Until September 11, 2001, it was the deadliest building collapse in American history in terms of firefighter fatalities.
1919 – Amid a widespread strike for union recognition by 395,000 steelworkers, approximately 250 alleged “anarchists,” “communists,” and “Labor agitators” were deported to Russia, marking the beginning of the so-called “Red Scare.”

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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