This week in labor history: December 21-27

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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 infighting over political and jurisdictional differences.
1910 Twenty-one Chicago firefighters, 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 Sept. 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.”

DECEMBER 23
1908 AFL officers are found in contempt of court for urging a labor boycott of Buck’s Stove and Range Co. in St Louis, where the Metal Polishers were striking for a nine-hour day.
1970 Construction workers top out the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 1,368 feet, making it the tallest building in the world.
2008 Walmart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest employer, with 1.4 million “associates,” agrees to settle 63 wage and hour suits across the U.S., for a grand total of between $352 million and $640 million. It was accused of failure to pay overtime, requiring off-the-clock work, and failure to provide required meal and rest breaks.

DECEMBER 24
1913 Seventy-two copper miners’ children die in panic caused by a company stooge at Calumet, Mich., who shouted “fire” up the stairs into a crowded hall where the children had gathered. They were crushed against closed doors when they tried to flee.

DECEMBER 25
1910 A dynamite bomb destroys a portion of the Llewellyn Ironworks in Los Angeles, where a bitter strike was in progress.
1967 Fourteen servicemen from military bases across the U.S., led by Pvt. Andrew Stapp, form The American Servicemen’s Union (ASU). The union, which never came close to being recognized by the government, in its heyday during the Vietnam war claimed tens of thousands of members and had chapters at bases, on ships and in Vietnam. ASU demands included the right to elect officers.

DECEMBER 26
1869 Knights of Labor founded. Constitution bars from membership “parasites,” including stockbrokers and lawyers.
1877 Workingmen’s Party is reorganized as the Socialist Labor Party.

DECEMBER 27
1943 President Roosevelt seizes the railroads to avert a nationwide strike. His decision to temporarily place the railroads under the “supervision” of the War Department prompts the five railroad brotherhoods to agree to his offer to arbitrate the wage dispute.

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

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