This week in labor history: December 28-January 3, 2021

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DECEMBER 28
1865 – The coffee percolator is patented by James H. Mason of Franklin, Mass., placing millions of caffeine-dependent working people forever in his debt.
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 in the back seat of a car traveling north. He was 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.
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 is 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 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.
1937 – 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, dies 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 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 that 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.

JANUARY 3
1852 – The ship Thetis arrives in Hawaii with 175 Chinese field workers bound to serve for five years at $3 per month.
1917 – Wobbly Tom Mooney is tried in San Francisco for Preparedness Day bombing.
1931 – In a familiar scene during the Great Depression, some 500 farmers, Black and White, their crops ruined by a long drought, march into downtown England, Ark., to demand food for their starving families, warning they would take it by force if necessary. Town fathers frantically contacted the Red Cross; each family went home with two weeks’ rations.
1949 – The Supreme Court rules against the closed shop, a labor-management agreement that only union members can be hired and must remain members to continue on the job.
1981 – AFL-CIO American Institute for Free Labor Development employees Mike Hammer and Mark Pearlman are assassinated in El Salvador along with a Peasant Workers’ Union leader with whom they were working on a land reform program.

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

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