This week in labor history: July 15-21

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JULY 15
1917 – Some 50,000 lumberjacks strike for eight-hour day.
1931 – Ralph Gray, an African-American sharecropper and leader of the Share Croppers Union, is murdered in Camp Hill, Ala.
1959 – A half-million steelworkers begin what is to become a 116-day strike that shutters nearly every steel mill in the country. Management wanted to dump contract language limiting its ability to change the number of workers assigned to a task or to introduce new work rules or machinery that would result in reduced hours or fewer employees.

JULY 16
1919 – Ten thousand workers strike Chicago’s Int’l Harvester operations.
1920 – Martial law declared in strike by longshoremen in Galveston, Texas.
1934 – San Francisco Longshoreman’s strike spreads, becomes four-day general strike.

JULY 17
1944 – Two ammunition ships explode at Port Chicago, Calif., killing 322, including 202 African-Americans assigned by the Navy to handle explosives. It was the worst home-front disaster of World War II. The resulting refusal of 258 African-Americans to return to the dangerous work underpinned the trial and conviction of 50 of the men in what is called the Port Chicago Mutiny.

JULY 18
1883 – The Brotherhood of Telegraphers begins an unsuccessful three-week strike against the Western Union Telegraph Co.
1919 – Some 35,000 Chicago stockyard workers strike.
1969 – Hospital workers win 113-day union recognition strike in Charleston, S.C.

JULY 19
1848 – Women’s Rights Convention opens in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Delegates adopt a Declaration of Women’s Rights and call for women’s suffrage.
1940 – An amendment to the 1939 Hatch Act, a federal law whose main provision prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity, is amended to also cover state and local employees whose salaries include any federal funds.

JULY 20
1899 – New York City newsboys, many so poor that they were sleeping in the streets, begin a two-week strike. Several rallies drew more than 5,000 newsboys, complete with charismatic speeches by strike leader Kid Blink, who was blind in one eye. The boys had to pay publishers up front for the newspapers; they were successful in forcing the publishers to buy back unsold papers.
1934 – Two killed, 67 wounded in Minneapolis truckers’ strike — “Bloody Friday.”
1971 – Postal unions, Postal Service sign first labor contract in the history of the federal government—the year following an unauthorized strike by 200,000 postal workers.

JULY 21
1877 – Local militiamen are called out against striking railroad workers in Pittsburgh. The head of the Pennsylvania Railroad advises giving the strikers “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread.”
1880 – Compressed air explosion kills 20 workers constructing railroad tunnel under the Hudson River.
1964 – IWW leads a strike at Hodgeman’s Blueberry Farm in Grand Junction, Mich.
1926 – Radio station WCFL, owned and operated by the Chicago Federation of Labor, takes to the airwaves with two hours of music. The first and only labor-owned radio station in the country, WCFL was sold in 1979.
1984 – A die-cast operator in Jackson, Mich., is pinned by a hydraulic Unimate robot, dies five days later. Incident is the first documented case in the U.S. of a robot killing a human.

(Labor History is provided by Union Communications Services, since 1981 North America’s premier publisher and distributor of newsletters, leadership training programs for shop stewards and officers, website materials and other powerful use-it-today strategies and tools to help leaders and activists build union power. Reach them at unionist.com.)

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