This week in labor history: February 17-23

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FEBRUARY 17
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.

FEBRUARY 18
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-cents-an-hour, fire fighters form The Int’l Association of Fire Fighters. Some individual locals had affiliated with the AFL beginning in 1903.

FEBRUARY 19
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 salesclerk 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 seven-year boycott.

FEBRUARY 20
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they formed the Factory Girl’s Association in response to a rent hike in company boarding houses and the increase was rescinded.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 – A rally for unemployed work seekers becomes major confrontation in Philadelphia, with 18 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.

FEBRUARY 21
1868 – A state law was enacted in California providing the eight-hour day for most workers, but it was not effectively enforced.
1969 – Transportation-Communication Employees Union merges with Brotherhood of Railway, Airline & Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express & Station Employees.
1972 – United Farm Workers of America granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.

FEBRUARY 22
1892 – Representatives of the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers meet in St. Louis with 20 other organizations to plan the founding convention of the People’s Party, with the objectives of ending political corruption, spreading the wealth, and combating the oppression of the rights of workers and farmers.
1997 – Albert Shanker dies at age 68. He served as president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers from 1964 to 1984 and of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997.
2018 – Some 34,000 public school teachers throughout West Virginia struck today in protest of poor pay (they were ranked as the 48th worst-paid throughout the 50 states) and concerns over health care costs. They returned to work March 7 after scoring a five percent raise. The strike inspired aggressive teacher action in several other low-wage states including Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona.

FEBRUARY 23
1868 – W.E.B. DuBois, educator and civil rights activist, born.
1875 – The National Marine Engineers Association (now the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association), representing deck and engine officers on U.S. flag vessels, is formed at a convention in Cleveland, Ohio .
1887 – The Journeyman Bakers’ National Union receives its charter from the American Federation of Labor.
1904 – William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner began publishing articles on the menace of Japanese laborers, leading to a resolution in the California legislature that action be taken against their immigration.
1940 – Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land” following a frigid trip — partially by hitchhiking, partially by rail — from California to Manhattan. The Great Depression was still raging. Guthrie had heard Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” and resolved to himself: “We can’t just bless America, we’ve got to change it.”
1984 – Association of Flight Attendants granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.
2004 – Following voter approval of the measure in 2003, San Francisco’s minimum wage rises to $8.50, up from $6.75.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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