This week in labor history: December 5-11

DECEMBER 5
1911 Unionists John T. and James B. McNamara are sentenced to 15 years and life, respectively, after confessing to dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building during a drive to unionize the metal trades in the city. They placed the bomb in an alley next to the building, set to detonate when they thought the building would be empty; it went off early, and an unanticipated gas explosion and fire did the real damage, killing twenty people. The newspaper was strongly conservative and anti-union.
1955 Ending a 20-year split, the two largest labor federations in the U.S. merge to form the AFL-CIO, with a membership estimated at 15 million.
1999 AFL-CIO President John Sweeney welcomes the collapse of World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, declaring, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
2008 The U.S. Department of Labor reports employers slashed 533,000 jobs the month before — the most in 34 years — as the Great Recession surged. The unemployment rolls had risen for seven months before that and were to continue to soar for another 10 months before topping 10 percent and beginning to level off late the following year.

DECEMBER 6
1869 African-American delegates meet in Washington, D.C., to form the Colored National Labor Union as a branch of the all-White National Labor Union created three years earlier. Unlike the NLU, the CNLU welcomed members of all races. Isaac Myers was the CNLU’s founding president; Frederick Douglass became president in 1872.
1844 The Washington Monument is completed in Washington, D.C. On the interior of the monument are 193 commemorative stones, donated by numerous governments and organizations from all over the world; one of them is from the Int’l Typographical Union, founded in 1852. In 1986 the ITU merged into the Communications Workers of America.
1907 A total of 361 coal miners die at Monongah, W.Va., in nation’s worst mining disaster.
1961 Int’l Glove Workers Union of America merges into Amalgamated Clothing Workers.
1977 United Mine Workers begin what is to become a 110-day national coal strike.

DECEMBER 7
1888 Heywood Broun born in New York City. Journalist, columnist and co-founder, in 1933, of The Newspaper Guild.
1896 Steam boiler operators from 11 cities across the country meet in Chicago to form the National Union of Steam Engineers of America, the forerunner to the Int’l Union of Operating Engineers. Each of the men represented a local union of 40 members or fewer.
1931 More than 1,600 protesters staged a national hunger march on Washington, D.C., to present demands for unemployment insurance.
1982 United Hatters, Cap & Millinery Workers Int’l Union merges into Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union.
2009 Delegates to the founding convention of the National Nurses United (NNU) in Phoenix, Ariz., unanimously endorse the creation of the largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in U.S. history. The 150,000-member union is the product of a merger of three groups.

DECEMBER 8
1886 Twenty-five unions found the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in Columbus, Ohio; Cigarmaker’s union leader Samuel Gompers is elected president. The AFL’s founding document’s preamble reads: “A struggle is going on in all of the civilized world between oppressors and oppressed of all countries, between capitalist and laborer…”
1962 One-hundred-fourteen-day newspaper strike begins, New York City.
1993 President Bill Clinton signs The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
2001 Nearly 230 jailed teachers — about one-fourth of the 1,000-member Middletown Township, N.J., staff — are ordered freed after they and their colleagues agree to end a nine-day strike and go into mediation with the local school board.
2009 Faced with a national unemployment rate of 10 percent, President Barack Obama outlines new multibillion-dollar stimulus and jobs proposals, saying the country must continue to “spend our way out of this recession” until more Americans are back at work. Joblessness had soared six percent in the final two years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

DECEMBER 9
2001 Ratification of a new Labor agreement at Titan Tire of Natchez, Miss., ends the longest strike in the history of the U.S. tire industry, which began May 1, 1998, at the company’s Des Moines, Iowa, plant.

DECEMBER 10
1906 First sit-down strike in U.S. called by IWW at General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y.
1948 Int’l Human Rights Day, commemorating the signing at the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, in part: “Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
1956 American Federation of Teachers Local 89 in Atlanta, Georgia, disaffiliates from the national union because of an AFT directive that all its locals integrate. A year later, the AFT expelled all locals that refused to do so.
1970 Cesar Chavez jailed for 14 days for refusing to end United Farm Workers’ lettuce boycott.

DECEMBER 11
1886 A small group of Black farmers organize the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union in Houston County, Texas. They had been barred from membership in the all-White Southern Farmers’ Alliance. Through intensive organizing, along with merging with another Black farmers group, the renamed Colored Alliance by 1891 claimed a membership of 1.2 million.
1951 Ten days after an Illinois State mine inspector approved coal dust removal techniques at New Orient mine in West Frankfort, the mine exploded, apparently due to accumulated methane gas, killing 119 workers.
1968 The U.S. Department of Labor announces that the nation’s unemployment rate had dropped to 3.3 percent, the lowest mark in 15 years.
1995 Forty thousand workers go on general strike in London, Ontario, population 300,000 — protesting cuts in social services.
2012 Michigan becomes the 24th state to adopt so-called “right-to-work” legislation. The Republican-dominated state Senate introduced two measures — one covering private workers, the other covering public workers — by surprise five days earlier and immediately voted their passage; the Republican House approved them five days later (the fastest it legally could) and the Republican governor immediately signed both bills.

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

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