This Week In Labor History February 29 – March 4

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FEBRUARY 26
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 collapsed, flooding the 17-mile long valley – 118 died, 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.
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
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.
1938 A 15-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 Feb. 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.
1948 (Actually leap year Feb. 29) 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.”

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.
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.

MARCH 2
1913 Postal workers granted eight-hour day.
1990 More than 6,000 drivers strike Greyhound Lines, most lose jobs to strikebreakers after company declares an “impasse” in negotiations.

MARCH 3
1906 The local lumber workers’ union in Humboldt County, Calif., founded the Union Labor Hospital Association to establish a hospital for union workers in the county. The hospital became an important community facility that was financed and run by the local Labor Movement.
1931 The Davis-Bacon Act took effect today. It orders contractors on federally financed or assisted construction projects to pay wage rates equal to those prevailing in local construction trades.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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