This week in labor history: January 4-10, 2021

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JANUARY 4
1933 Angered by increasing farm foreclosures, members of Iowa’s Farmers Holiday Association threaten to lynch banking representatives and law officials who institute foreclosure proceedings for the duration of the Great Depression.
1961 What many believe to be the longest strike in modern history, by Danish barbers’ assistants, ends after 33 years.
1965 Eight thousand New York City social workers strike, demand better conditions for welfare recipients.

JANUARY 5
1869 The nation’s first labor convention of Black workers was held in Washington, D.C., with 214 delegates forming the Colored National Labor Union.
1914 Ford Motor Company raises wages from $2.40 for a nine-hour day to $5 for an eight-hour day in an effort to keep the unions out.
1933 Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins. Ten of the 11 deaths on the job came when safety netting beneath the site—the first-ever use of such equipment — failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen other workers were saved by the net over the course of construction. They became members of the (informal) Halfway to Hell Club.

JANUARY 6
1882 The Toronto Trades and Labour Council endorses the principle of equal pay for equal work between men and women.
1916 Eight thousand workers strike at Youngstown Sheet & Tube. The following day the strikers’ wives and other family members join in the protest. Company guards use tear gas bombs and fire into the crowd; three strikers are killed, 25 wounded.

JANUARY 7
1892 An explosion at Osage Coal and Mining Company’s Mine Number 11 near Krebs, Okla., kills 100, injures 150 when an untrained worker accidentally sets off a stash of explosives.
1939 Wobbly Tom Mooney, accused of a murder by bombing in San Francisco, is pardoned and freed after 22 years in San Quentin.
2009 The presidents of 12 of the nation’s largest unions meet and call for reuniting the American Labor Movement, which split into two factions in 2005 when seven unions left the AFL-CIO and formed a rival federation. The meeting followed signals from President-elect Barack Obama that he would prefer dealing with a united movement, rather than a fractured one that often had two competing voices. Unions from both sides of the split participated in the meeting. The reunification effort failed, but by mid-2013 four of the unions had rejoined the AFL-CIO.

JANUARY 8
1811 The largest slave revolt in U.S. history begins on Louisiana sugar plantations. Slaves armed with hand tools marched toward New Orleans, setting plantations and crops on fire, building their numbers to an estimated 300-500 as they went. The uprising lasted for two days before being brutally suppressed by the military.

1864 Birthdate of Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, first AFL woman organizer. In 1880 she organized the Woman’s Bookbinder Union and in 1903 was a founder of the National Women’s Trade Union League.
1912 American Federation of Labor charters a Mining Department.
1920 The AFL Iron and Steel Organizing Committee ends the “Great Steel Strike.” Some 350,000 to 400,000 steelworkers had been striking for more than three months, demanding union recognition. The strike failed.

JANUARY 9
1918 A Mediation Commission appointed by President Woodrow Wilson finds that “industry’s failure to deal with unions” is the prime reason for labor strife in war industries.
1922 Eighty thousand Chicago construction workers strike.
1939 Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union leads Missouri Highway sit-down of 1,700 families. They had been evicted from their homes so landowners wouldn’t have to share government crop subsidy payments with them.
1954 Former Hawaii Territorial Gov. Ingram Steinbeck opposes statehood for Hawaii, saying left wing unions have an “economic stranglehold” on the islands. Hawaii was to be granted statehood five years later.
2003 The administration of George W. Bush declares federal airport security screeners will not be allowed to unionize so as not to “complicate” the war on terrorism. The decision was challenged and eventually overturned after Bush left office.

JANUARY 10
1860 In what is described as the worst industrial disaster in state history, the Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, Mass., collapses, trapping 900 workers, mostly Irish women. More than 100 die, scores more injured in the collapse and ensuing fire. Too much machinery had been crammed into the building.
1914 Wobbly organizer and singer Joe Hill allegedly kills two men during a grocery store hold-up in Utah. He ultimately is executed by firing squad for the crime despite much speculation that he was framed. His last word was “Fire!”
1980 Former AFL-CIO President George Meany dies at age 85. The one-time plumber led the Labor federation from the time of the AFL and CIO merger in 1955 until shortly before his death.
2004 The Supreme Court lets stand implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) despite the lack of an Environmental Impact Statement.

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

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