This week in labor history: February 21-29

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FEBRUARY 21
1868 A state law is 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 strike 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 begins 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 writes “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.

FEBRUARY 24
1908 U.S. Supreme Court upholds Oregon state restrictions on the working hours of women, justified as necessary to protect their health. A laundry owner was fined $10 for making a female employee work more than 10 hours in a single day.
1912 Women and children textile strikers beaten by Lawrence, Mass., police during a 63-day walkout protesting low wages and work speedups.
1919 Congress passes a federal child labor tax law that imposed a 10 percent tax on companies that employ children, defined as anyone under the age of 16 working in a mine/quarry or under the age 14 in a “mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment.”  The Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional three years later.

FEBRUARY 25

2011 – A crowd estimated to be 100,000 strong rallies at the Wisconsin state capitol in protest of what was ultimately was to become a successful push by the state’s Republican majority to cripple public employee bargaining rights.

FEBRUARY 26
1885 Congress OKs the Contract Labor Law, designed to clamp down on “business agents” who contracted abroad for immigrant labor. One of the reasons unions supported the measure: employers were using foreign workers to fight against the growing U.S. labor movement, primarily by deploying immigrant labor to break strikes.
1941 Bethlehem Steel workers strike for union recognition, Bethlehem, Pa.
1972 A coal slag heap doubling as a dam in West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek Valley collapses, flooding the 17-mile long valley. A total of 118 died, and 5,000 were left homeless. The Pittston Coal Co. said it was “an act of God.”
2004 A 20-week strike by 70,000 Southern California supermarket workers ends, with both sides claiming victory.

FEBRUARY 27
1875 Legendary labor leader and socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs becomes charter member and secretary of the Vigo Lodge, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. Five years later he is leading the national union and in 1893 helps found the nation’s first industrial union, the American Railway Union.
1902 Birth of John Steinbeck in Salinas, Calif.  Steinbeck is best known for writing The Grapes of Wrath, which exposed the mistreatment of migrant farm workers during the Depression and led to some reforms.
1932 Thirty-eight miners die in a coal mine explosion in Boissevain, Va.
1937 Four hundred fifty Woolworth’s workers and customers occupy store for eight days in support of Waiters and Waitresses Union, Detroit.
1939 The Supreme Court rules that sit-down strikes, a major organizing tool for industrial unions, are illegal.
1943 Mine disaster kills 75 at Red Lodge, Mont.

FEBRUARY 28
1898 – U.S. Supreme Court finds that a Utah state law limiting mine and smelter workers to an eight-hour workday is constitutional.
1918 The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is organized on this day as 36 delegates representing 24 local fire fighter unions convene in Washington, DC. They debate on a name for the new organization, deciding between the International Brotherhood of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Fighters.
1938 A fifteen-week strike in San Francisco by 108 members of the ILGWU’s “Chinese Ladies Garment Workers Union” starts against a National Dollar Stores factory and three retail stores. Two weeks after white retail clerks struck in support, the strike was won. Workers received a pay increase, enforcement of health and safety regulations, and guarantees of work. Although the company closed a year later, the union later helped Chinese workers get positions in previously white-only shops, and some moved into leadership positions in the ILGWU.

FEBRUARY 29
1940 Screen Actors Guild member Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American to win an Academy Award, honored for her portrayal of “Mammy” in “Gone with the Wind.”
1986 In response to the layoff of 450 union members at a 3M factory in New Jersey, every worker at a 3M factory in Elandsfontein, South Africa, walks off the job in sympathy.

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

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