This week in labor history: December 27-January 2

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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.

DECEMBER 28
1865 The coffee percolator is patented by James H. Mason of Franklin, Mass., placing himself forever in the debt of millions of caffeine-dependent working people.
1936 Auto workers begin sit-down strike for union recognition at GM’s Fisher Body plant in Cleveland.
1952 Country music legend Hank Williams attends what is to be his last musicians’ union meeting, at the Elite (pronounced E-light) café in Montgomery, Ala.  He died of apparent heart failure three days later at the age of 29.

DECEMBER 29
1970 After years of intensive lobbying by the Labor Movement, a comprehensive national safety law is enacted as President Nixon signs the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970, creating the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
2006 More than 15,000 United Steel Workers members at 16 Goodyear Tire & Rubber plants end an 86-day strike, ratify three-year contract.

DECEMBER 30
1899 Gathering in the back room of Behrens’ cigar shop in Sedalia, Mo., 33 railroad clerks form Local Lodge Number 1 of a union they named the Order of the Railroad Clerks of America.
1905 Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenberg, who had brutally suppressed the state’s miners, is killed by an assassin’s bomb. Legendary Western Federation of Miners and IWW leader William “Big Bill” Haywood and two other men were put on trial for the death but were ultimately declared innocent.
1936 GM sit-down strike spreads to Flint, Mich., will last 44 days before ending in union victory.

DECEMBER 31
1931 Sixty thousand unemployed workers rally at a Pittsburgh stadium.
1969 United Mine Workers reformer Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, his wife and daughter are murdered by hit men hired by union president Tony Boyle, who was to be convicted of the crime and eventually die in prison.
1987 OSHA adopts a grain handling facilities standard to protect 155,000 workers at nearly 24,000 grain elevators from the risk of fire and explosion from highly combustible grain dust.

JANUARY 1
1863 Emancipation Proclamation signed.
1875 Women weavers form union, Fall River, Mass.
1920 John L. Lewis is elected president of the United Mine Workers. Fifteen years later he is to be a leader in the formation of what was to become the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
1932 With the Great Depression in full force, the year 1932 opens with 14 million unemployed, national income down by 50 percent, breadlines that include former shopkeepers, businessmen and middle-class housewives. Charity is overwhelmed: only one-quarter of America’s unemployed are receiving any help at all.
1931 Workers begin to acquire credits toward Social Security pension benefits. Employers and employees became subject to a tax of one percent of wages on up to $3,000 a year.
1939 Adolph Strasser, head of the Cigar Maker’s Union and one of the founders of the AFL in 1886, died on this day in Forest Park, Ill.
1966 Members of the Transport Workers Union and Amalgamated Transit Union working for the New York transit system begin what is to be a successful 12-day strike. Fiery TWU leader Mike Quill, jailed for several days during the strike, then hospitalized, died three days after his release from the hospital.
1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) takes effect, despite objections by Labor.

JANUARY 2
1905 Conference of 23 industrial unionists in Chicago leads to formation of IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as Wobblies.
1920 In what became known as Palmer Raids, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer arrests 4,000 foreign-born Labor activists. He believed Communism was “eating its way into the homes of the American workman,” and Socialists were causing most of the country’s social problems.
2006 An underground explosion at Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W. Va., traps 12 miners and cuts power to the mine. Eleven men die, mostly by asphyxiation. The mine had been cited 273 times for safety violations over the prior 23 months.

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

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