This week in labor history: July 29-August 4

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JULY 29
1891 – The Coast Seamen’s Union merges with the Steamship Sailors’ Union to form the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific.
1903 – A preliminary delegation arrives from Mother Jones’ March of the Mill Children from Philadelphia to 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.

JULY 30
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.

JULY 31
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 which 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.

AUGUST 1
1917 – After organizing a strike of metal miners against the Anaconda Company, Wobbly organizer Frank Little is dragged by six masked men from his Butte, Mont., hotel room and hung from the Milwaukee Railroad trestle. Years later writer Dashiell Hammett would recall his early days as a Pinkerton detective agency operative and recount how a mine company representative offered him $5,000 to kill Little. Hammett says he quit the business that night.
1921 – Sid Hatfield, police chief of Matewan, W. Va., a longtime supporter of the United Mine Workers union, is murdered by company goons. This soon led to the Battle of Blair Mountain, a labor uprising also referred to as the Red Neck War.
1938 – Police in Hilo, Hawaii, open fire on 200 demonstrators supporting striking waterfront workers. The attack became known as “the Hilo Massacre.”
1944 – A 17-day, company-instigated wildcat strike in Philadelphia tries to bar eight African-American trolley operators from working. Transport Workers Union members stay on the job in support of the men.
1997 – Ten-month strike against Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel wins agreement guaranteeing defined-benefit pensions for 4,500 Steelworkers.

AUGUST 2
1918 – The first General Strike in Canadian history is held in Vancouver, organized as a one-day political protest against the killing of draft evader and labor activist Albert “Ginger” Goodwin, who had called for a general strike in the event that any worker was drafted against his will.
1939 – Hatch Act is passed, limiting political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government.

AUGUST 3
1821 – Uriah Smith Stephens born in Cape May, N.J. A tailor by trade, in 1869 he led nine Philadelphia garment workers to found the Knights of Labor.
1913 – Fighting breaks out when sheriff’s deputies attempt to arrest Wobbly leader Richie “Blackie” Ford as he addressed striking field workers at the Durst Ranch in Wheatland, Calif. Four people died, including the local district attorney, a deputy and two workers. Despite the lack of evidence against them, Ford and another strike leader were found guilty of murder by a 12-member jury that included eight farmers.
1986 – Florence Reece dies in Knoxville, Tenn., at 86. She was a Mine Workers union activist and author of “Which Side Are You On?,” written after her home was ransacked by Harlan County Sheriff J.H. Blair and his thugs during a 1931 strike.
1981 – Some 15,000 air traffic controllers strike. President Reagan threatens to fire any who do not return to work within 48 hours, saying they “have forfeited their jobs” if they do not. Most stay out, and are fired August 5.

AUGUST 4
1876 – The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers is formed. It partnered with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, CIO in 1935; both organizations disbanded in 1942 to form the new United Steelworkers.
1919 – An estimated 15,000 silk workers in Paterson, N.J., strike for a 44-hour week.
1997 – Nearly 185,000 Teamsters begin what is to become a successful 15-day strike at United Parcel Service over excessive use of part-timers.

(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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