This week in labor history: February 10-16

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FEBRUARY 10
1908 – The American Federation of Labor (AFL) founds the Building and Construction Trades Department as a way to overcome the jurisdictional conflicts occurring in the building and construction unions.
1963 – Eleven members of the Carpenters’ union in Reesor Siding, Northern Ontario are shot, three fatally, by independent local farmer-settlers who were supplying wood to a Spruce Falls Power and Paper Co. plant. Some 400 union members were attempting to block an outbound shipment from the plant. The action came as the company was insisting on a pay freeze and two months of seven-day-a-week work.
1973 – Forty workers are killed on Staten Island, N.Y., when a huge storage tank filled with liquefied gas explodes.

FEBRUARY 11
1903 – Five hundred Japanese and 200 Mexican laborers unite to fight the labor contractor responsible for hiring at the American Beet Sugar Co. in Oxnard, Calif. They ultimately win higher wages and the right to shop at stores not owned by the company.
1913 – Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is arrested while leading a protest of conditions in West Virginia mines. She was 83 years old at the time.
1913 – Fifteen thousand rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio, protesting speed-up.
1919 – The Seattle General Strike ends after six days. Some 65,000 workers struck for higher pay after two years of World War I wage controls.
1948 – “White Shirt Day” at UAW-represented GM plants. Union members are encouraged to wear white shirts, marking the anniversary of the 1936-1937 Flint sit-down strike that gave the union bargaining rights at the automaker. The mission: send a message that “blue collar” workers deserve the same respect as their management counterparts. One of the day’s traditional rules: Don’t get your shirt any dirtier than the boss gets his. The 44-day strike was won in 1937 but the tradition didn’t begin until 1948, at the suggestion of Local 598 member Bert Christenson.
1968 – Some 1,300 sanitation workers begin what is to become a 64-day strike in Memphis, ultimately winning union recognition and wage increases. The April 4 assassination in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr., who had been taking an active role in mass meetings and street actions, brought pressure on the city to settle the strike.
2011 – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announces he will call out the National Guard, if necessary, to deal with any “unrest” among state employees in the wake of his decision to unilaterally end nearly all collective bargaining rights for the workers.

FEBRUARY 12
1818 – Abolitionist Frederick Douglass born into slavery near Easton, Md.
1880 – John L. Lewis, president of United Mine Workers of America and founding president of the CIO, born near Lucas, Iowa.

FEBRUARY 13
1865 – A national eight-month strike by the Sons of Vulcan, a union of iron forgers, ends in victory when employers agreed to a wage scale based on the price of iron bars—the first time employers recognized the union, the first union contract in the iron and steel industry, and what may be the first union contract of any kind in the United States.
2008 – Some 12,000 Hollywood writers returned to work following a largely successful three-month strike against television and motion picture studios. They won compensation for their TV and movie work that gets streamed on the Internet.

FEBRUARY 14
1903 – Western Federation of Miners strike for eight-hour day.
1903 – President Theodore Roosevelt creates the Department of Commerce and Labor. It was divided into two separate government departments ten years later.
1913 – Jimmy Hoffa born in Brazil, Ind., son of a coal miner. Disappeared July 30, 1975, declared dead seven years later.
1997 – Striking workers at Detroit’s newspapers, out since the previous July, offer to return to work. The offer is accepted five days later but the newspapers vow to retain some 1,200 scabs. A court ruling the following year ordered as many as 1,100 former strikers reinstated.

FEBRUARY 15
1802 – Susan B. Anthony, suffragist, abolitionist, labor activist, born in Adams, Mass. “Join the union, girls, and together say: Equal Pay for Equal Work!”
1934 – U.S. legislators pass the Civil Works Emergency Relief Act, providing funds for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which funneled money to states plagued by Depression-era poverty and unemployment, and oversaw the subsequent distribution and relief efforts.
1950 – The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) expels the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers; the Food, Tobacco & Agricultural Workers; and the United Office & Professional Workers for “Communist tendencies.” Other unions expelled for the same reason (dates uncertain): Fur and Leather Workers, the Farm Equipment Union, the Int’l Longshoremen’s Union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.

FEBRUARY 16
1870 – Leonora O’Reilly was born in New York. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she began working in a factory at 11, joined the Knights of Labor at 16. A volunteer investigator of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, she was a founding member of the Women’s Trade Union League.
1883 – Diamond Mine disaster in Braidwood, Ill. The coal mine was on a marshy tract of land with no natural drainage. Snow melted and forced a collapse on the east side of the mine, killing 74.
1926 – Beginning of a 17-week general strike of 12,000 New York furriers, in which Jewish workers formed a coalition with Greek and African American workers and became the first union to win a five-day, 40-hour week.
1936 – Rubber Workers begin sit-down strike at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
1959 – American Wire Weavers Protective Association merges with United Papermakers & Paperworkers.
2011 – All public schools in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisc., are closed as teachers call in sick to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to gut their collective bargaining rights.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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