This week in labor history: February 14-20

1903 Western Federation of Miners strike for eight-hour workday.
1903 – President Theodore Roosevelt creates the Department of Commerce and Labor. It was divided into two separate government departments 10 years later.
1913 Legendary Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa born in Brazil, Ind., the son of a coal miner. He disappeared on July 30, 1975, and was 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.

1820 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 were 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.

1870 – Leonora O’Reilly born in New York. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she began working in a factory at 11, joined the Knights of Labor at 16, and was 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. Melting snow caused 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.
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.

1937 Sixty-three sit-down strikers, demanding recognition of their union, are tear-gassed and driven from two Fansteel Metallurgical Corp. plants in Chicago. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court declared sit-down strikes illegal. The tactic had been a major industrial union organizing tool.
1992 Two locals of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Int’l Union (now UNITE HERE) at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., strike in sympathy with 1,300 graduate student teaching assistants who are demanding the right to negotiate with the university.

1834 – One of the first American Labor newspapers, The Man, is published in New York City. It cost one cent and, according to The History of American Journalism, “died an early death.” Another Labor paper, N.Y. Daily Sentinel, had been launched four years earlier.
1918 Faced with 84-hour workweeks, 24-hour shifts and pay of 29¢ an hour, fire fighters form The Int’l Association of Fire Fighters. Some individual locals had affiliated with the AFL beginning in 1903.

1909 American Federation of Labor issues a charter to its new Railroad Employees Department.
1910 A few weeks after workers ask for a 25-cent hourly wage, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit (streetcar) Co. fires 173 union members “for the good of the service” and brings in replacements from New York City. Striker-scab battles and a general strike ensued.
1968 Journeymen Stonecutters Association of North America merges with Laborers’ Int’l Union.
1975 The U.S. Supreme Court decides in favor of sales clerk Leura Collins and her union, the Retail Clerks, in NLRB v. J. Weingarten Inc.— the case establishing that workers have a right to request the presence of their union steward if they believe they are to be disciplined for a workplace infraction.
1979 Int’l Union of Police Associations granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.
1986 Farm Labor Organizing Committee signs agreement with Campbell Soup Co., ending the seven-year boycott.

1834 Responding to a 15 percent wage cut, women textile workers in Lowell, Mass., organize a “turn-out” — a strike — in protest. The action failed. Two years later they formed the Factory Girl’s Association in response to a rent hike in company boarding houses and the increase was rescinded. One worker’s diary recounts a “stirring speech” of resistance by a co-worker, 11-year-old Harriet Hanson Robinson.
1908 Rally for unemployed becomes major confrontation in Philadelphia. 18 are arrested for demanding jobs.
1917 – Thousands of women march to New York’s City Hall demanding relief from exorbitant wartime food prices. Inflation had wiped out any wage gains made by workers, leading to a high level of working-class protest during World War I.
1990 – United Mine Workers settle 10-month Pittston strike in Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia.

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

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