This week in labor history: February 3-9

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FEBRUARY 3
1908 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules the United Hatters Union violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by organizing a nationwide boycott of Danbury Hatters of Connecticut.
1941 – U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Wages and Hours (later Fair Labor Standards) Act banning child labor and establishing the 40-hour work week.
1971 – An explosion at a Thiokol chemical plant near Woodbine, Georgia kills 29 workers, seriously injures 50. An investigation found that contributing factors to the explosion were mislabeled chemicals, poor storage procedures and insufficient fire protection.

FEBRUARY 4
1825 – The Ohio legislature authorizes construction of the 249-mile Miami and Erie Canal, to connect Toledo to Cincinnati. Local historians say “Irish immigrants, convicts and local farmers used picks, shovels and wheelbarrows,” at 30 cents per day, to construct the 249-mile-long waterway.
1869 – “Big Bill” Haywood born in Salt Lake City, Utah: Leader of Western Federation of Miners, Wobblies (IWW) founder.
1913 – Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man launched the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and the birth of the civil rights movement, is born in Tuskeege, Ala.
1932 – Unemployment demonstrations take place in major U.S. cities.
1937 – Thirty-seven thousand maritime workers on the West Coast strike for wage increases.
2009 – President Barack Obama imposes $500,000 caps on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money, saying Americans are upset with “executives being rewarded for failure.”

FEBRUARY 5
1830 – First daily Labor newspaper, N.Y. Daily Sentinel, begins publication.
1937 – The movie “Modern Times” premieres. The tale of the tramp (Charlie Chaplin) and his paramour (Paulette Goddard) mixed slapstick comedy and social satire, as the couple struggled to overcome the difficulties of the machine age including unemployment and nerve-wracking factory work, and getting along in modern times.
1993 – President Bill Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act. The law requires most employers of 50 or more workers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a family or medical emergency.
2003 – In what turns out to be a bad business decision, Circuit City fires 3,900 experienced sales people because they’re making too much in commissions. Sales plummet. Six years later it declares bankruptcy.

FEBRUARY 6
1896 – Ironworkers from six cities meet in Pittsburgh to form the Int’l Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America. Their pay in Pittsburgh at the time: $2.75 for a nine-hour day.
1910 – Philadelphia shirtwaist makers vote to accept arbitration offer and end walkout as Triangle Shirtwaist strike winds down. One year later 146 workers, mostly young girls aged 13 to 23, were to die in a devastating fire at Triangle’s New York City sweatshop.
1919 – Seattle General Strike begins. The city was run by a General Strike Committee for six days as tens of thousands of union members stopped work in support of 32,000 striking longshoremen.

FEBRUARY 7
1894 – Union miners in Cripple Creek, Colo., begin what is to become a five-month strike that started when mine owners cut wages to $2.50-a-day, from $3. The state militia was called out in support of the strikers — the only time in U.S. history that a militia was directed to side with the workers. The strike ended in victory for the union.
1904 – It took 1,231 fire fighters 30 hours to put down The Great Baltimore Fire, which started on this day and destroyed 1,500 buildings over an area of some 140 acres.
1957 – Hockey players formed the NHL Players Association in New York City after owners refuse to release pension plan financial information. The union was busted when owners transferred key activists, but it successfully re-formed 10 years later.
2008 – Thirteen workers are killed, 42 injured in a dust explosion at an Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia. Investigators found that the company had been aware of dangers for years but had not acted on them.

FEBRUARY 8
1912 – Vigilantes beat IWW organizers for exercising free-speech rights, San Diego.

FEBRUARY 9
1917 – Wobbly activist Tom Mooney convicted in bombing frame-up orchestrated by Pinkerton Detective Agency. He was pardoned and released 22 years later.
1937 – Congress approves legislation allowing for a total of $940 million to be used for Depression-era relief projects. $790 million of this money was intended to be used to fund work relief and flood recovery programs.
1950 – U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy falsely charged that the State Department was riddled with communists. It seems that just about everyone else the Wisconsin senator didn’t like was a communist as well, including scores of unionists. This was the beginning of “McCarthyism.” He ultimately was officially condemned by the Senate and died of alcoholism.
1961 – President Kennedy asks Congress to approve creation of the Medicare program, financed by an increase in Social Security taxes, to aid 14.2 million Americans aged 65 or older.
2000 – Some 19,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers in Washington state and Oregon begin what is to become a 40-day strike over economic issues.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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