This week in labor history: February 24-March 1

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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 are 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” was started against a National Dollar Stores factory and three retail stores on February 26, 1938. 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.

MARCH 1
1900 – The Granite Cutters National Union begins what is to be a successful nationwide strike for the eight-hour day. Also won: union recognition, wage increases, a grievance procedure and a minimum wage scale.
1906 – Joseph Curran is born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. At age 16 he joined the Merchant Marines and in 1937 went on to lead the formation of the National Maritime Union. He was the union’s founding president and held the post until 1973, when he resigned amidst corruption charges. He died in 1981.
1907 – IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) strikes Portland, Ore., sawmills.
1936 – An article in the March 1936 edition of the magazine Popular Science lists what it terms “the world’s craziest jobs,” all of them in Hollywood. Included: Horse-tail painter (to make the tails stand out better in the movies); bone-bleacher (for animal skeletons in Westerns); and chorus-girl weigher, whose function the article did not make terribly clear.
1936 – Sailors aboard the S.S. California, docked in San Pedro, Calif., refuse to cast off the lines and allow the ship to sail until their wages are increased and overtime paid. The job action lasts three days before the Secretary of Labor intervenes and an agreement is reached. The leaders were fined two days’ pay, fired and blacklisted, although charges of mutiny were dropped. The action marked the beginnings of the National Maritime Union.
1936 – After five years of labor by 21,000 workers, 112 of whom were killed on the job, the Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam) is completed and turned over to the government. Citizens were so mad at President Herbert Hoover, for whom the dam had been named, that it was later changed to Boulder Dam, being located near Boulder City, Nev.
1937 – CIO president John L. Lewis and U.S. Steel President Myron Taylor sign a landmark contract in which the bitterly anti-union company officially recognized the CIO as sole negotiator for the company’s unionized workers. Included: the adoption of overtime pay, the 40-hour work week, and a big pay hike.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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