This week in labor history: July 25-31

1877 – Workers stage a general strike – believed to be the nation’s first – in St. Louis, in support of striking railroad workers. The successful strike ended when some 3,000 federal troops and 5,000 deputized special police killed at least 18 people in skirmishes around the city.
1890 – New York garment workers win closed shop and firing of scabs after a seven-month strike.
1937 – Fifteen “living dead women” testify before the Illinois Industrial Commission. They were “Radium Girls,” women who died prematurely after working at clock and watch factories, where they were told to wet small paintbrushes in their mouths so they could dip them in radium to paint dials. A Geiger counter passed over graves in a cemetery near Ottawa, Ill. still registers the presence of radium.
2005 – The Teamsters and Service Employees unions break from the AFL-CIO during the federation’s 50th convention to begin the Change to Win coalition, ultimately comprised of seven unions (down to four by 2011 – SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW and the UFW). They say they want more emphasis on organizing and less on electoral politics.

1877 – In Chicago, 30 workers are killed by federal troops and more than 100 are wounded at the “Battle of the Viaduct” during the Great Railroad Strike.
1894 – President Grover Cleveland appoints a United States Strike Committee to investigate the causes of the Pullman strike and the subsequent strike by the American Railway Union. Later in the year, the commission issues a report absolving the strikers and blaming Pullman and the railroads for the conflict.
1912 – Battle of Mucklow, W.Va., during a coal strike. An estimated 100,000 shots are fired with 12 miners and four guards killed.
1948 – President Truman issues Executive Order 9981, directing equality of opportunity in armed forces.
1992 – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) takes effect, requiring employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities and banning discrimination against such workers.

1869 – Death of William Sylvis, founder of the National Labor Union.

1869 – Women shoemakers in Lynn, Mass., create Daughters of St. Crispin, demand pay equal to that of men.
1901 – Harry Bridges is born in Australia. He came to America as a sailor at age 19 and went on to help form and lead the militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union for more than 40 years.
1913 – Paterson, N.J., silk workers’ strike for an eight-hour day and improved working conditions ends after six months, with the workers’ demands unmet. During the course of the strike, approximately 1,800 strikers were arrested, including Wobbly leaders Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
1932 – Federal troops burn the shantytown built near the U.S. Capitol by thousands of unemployed WWI veterans, camping there to demand a bonus they had been promised but never received.
2002 – Nine miners are rescued in Sommerset, Pa., after being trapped for 77 hours, 240 feet underground in the flooded Quecreek Mine.

1903 – A preliminary delegation from Mother Jones’ March of the Mill Children in Philadelphia arrives at President Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, publicizing the harsh conditions of child labor. They are not allowed through the gates.
1956 – Nineteen firefighters die while responding to a blaze at the Shamrock Oil and Gas Corp. refinery in Sun Ray, Texas.
1970 – Following a five-year table grape boycott, Delano-area growers file into the United Farm Workers union hall in Delano, Calif., to sign their first union contracts.

1965 – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Social Security Act of 1965, establishing Medicare and Medicaid.
1975 – Former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa disappears. Declared legally dead in 1982, his body has never been found.
1999 – United Airlines agrees to offer domestic-partner benefits to employees and retirees worldwide.

1970 – Members of the National Football League Players Association begin what is to be a two-day strike, their first. The issues: pay, pensions, the right to arbitration and the right to have agents.
1981 – Fifty-day baseball strike ends.
1999 – The Great Shipyard Strike of 1999 ends after Steelworkers at Newport News Shipbuilding ratify a breakthrough agreement that nearly doubles pensions, increases security, ends inequality, and provides the highest wage increases in company and industry history to nearly 10,000 workers at the yard. The strike lasted 15 weeks.

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

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