This week in labor history: January 11-17, 2021

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JANUARY 11
1912 The IWW-organized “Bread & Roses” textile strike of 32,000 women and children begins in Lawrence, Mass. It lasted 10 weeks and ended in victory. The first millworkers to walk out were Polish women, who, upon collecting their pay, exclaimed that they had been cheated and promptly abandoned their looms.
1937 Nearly two weeks into a sit-down strike at GM’s Fisher Body Plant No. 2 in Flint, Mich., workers battle police when they try to prevent the strikers from receiving food deliveries from thousands of supporters on the outside.
1995 National Hockey League owners end a player lockout that had gone for three months and 10 days. A key issue was owner insistence on a salary cap, which they won.
2002 Ford Motor Co. announces it will eliminate 35,000 jobs while discontinuing four models and closing five plants.

JANUARY 12
1919 Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson orders police to raid an open-air mass meeting of shipyard workers in an attempt to prevent a general strike. Workers were brutally beaten. The strike began the following month, with 60,000 workers walking out in solidarity with some 25,000 metal tradesmen.
1942 President Roosevelt creates the National War Labor Board to mediate labor disputes during World War II. Despite the fact that 12 million of the nation’s workers were women – to rise to 18 million by war’s end – the panel consisted entirely of men.

JANUARY 13
1874 The original Tompkins Square Riot. As unemployed workers demonstrated in New York’s Tompkins Square Park, a detachment of mounted police charged into the crowd, beating men, women and children with billy clubs. Commissioner of Police Abram Duryee declared: “It was the most glorious sight I ever saw…”
1924 (Exact date uncertain) As the nation debates a constitutional amendment to rein in the widespread practice of brutally overworking children in factories and fields, U.S. District Judge G.W. McClintic expresses concern, instead, about child idleness.

JANUARY 14
1993 Clinton-era OSHA issues confined spaces standard to prevent more than 50 deaths and 5,000 serious injuries annually for workers who enter confined spaces.
1995 Pennsylvania Superior Court rules bosses can fire workers for being gay.
2003 Some 14,000 General Electric employees strike for two days to protest the company’s mid-contract decision to shift an average of $400 in additional health care co-payments onto each worker.
2014 A 15-month lockout by the Minnesota Orchestra against members of the Twin Cities Musicians’ Local 30-73 ends when the musicians agree to a 15 percent pay cut (management wanted up to 40 percent) and increased health care cost sharing. They did win a revenue-sharing deal based on performance of the Orchestra’s endowments. It was the nation’s longest-running contract dispute for a concert orchestra.

JANUARY 15
1919 Seventeen workers die when a large molasses storage tank in Boston’s North End neighborhood bursts, sending a 40-foot wave of molasses surging through the streets at an estimated 35 miles per hour. In all, 21 people died and 150 were injured. The incident is variously known as the Boston Molasses Disaster, the Great Molasses Flood and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy.  Some residents claim that on hot summer days, the area still smells of molasses.
1929 Martin Luther King Jr. born.
1938 The CIO miners’ union in the Grass Valley area of California strikes for higher wages, union recognition, and the eight-hour day. The strike was defeated when vigilantes and law enforcement officials expelled 400 miners and their families from the area.
1946 Some 174,000 members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union (UE) strike General Electric and Westinghouse after the power companies, with record-setting profits, offered just a half-cent per hour increase. After nine weeks, the strike was settled with an 18.5 cents hourly wage improvement.

JANUARY 16
1883 The United States Civil Service Commission is established as the Pendleton Act goes into effect.
1920 Thousands of Palmer Raids detainees win right to meet with lawyers and attorney representation at deportation hearings. “Palmer” was Alexander Mitchell Palmer, U.S. attorney general under Woodrow Wilson. Palmer believed Communism was “eating its way into the homes of the American workman,” and that Socialists were causing most of the country’s social problems.

JANUARY 17
1915 Radical Labor organizer and anarchist Lucy Parsons leads hunger march in Chicago; IWW songwriter Ralph Chaplin wrote “Solidarity Forever” for the march.
1962 President John F. Kennedy signs Executive Order 10988, guaranteeing federal workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively.

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

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