This week in labor history: July 3-9

1835 – Children, employed in the silk mills in Paterson, N.J., go on strike for an 11-hour day and six-day week. A compromise settlement resulted in a 69-hour workweek.

1924 Five newspaper boys from the Baltimore Evening Sun die when the steamer they are on, the Three Rivers, catches fire near Baltimore. They are remembered every year at a West Baltimore cemetery, toasted by former staffers of the now-closed newspaper.

1894 During a strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company, which had drastically reduced wages, buildings constructed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago’s Jackson Park were set ablaze, reducing seven to ashes.
1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike, Battle of Rincon Hill, San Francisco. Some 5,000 strikers fought 1,000 police, scabs and national guardsmen. Two strikers were killed, 109 people injured. The incident, forever known as “Bloody Thursday,” led to a general strike.
1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the National Labor Relations Act.
1973 Three fire fighters, a state policeman and an employee of Doxol Gas in Kingman, Arizona, are killed in a propane gas explosion. Eight more fire fighters were to die of burns suffered in the event.
1994 Fourteen fire fighters are killed battling the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

1889 Two strikers and a bystander are killed and 30 are seriously wounded by police in Duluth, Minn. The workers, mostly immigrants building the city’s streets and sewers, struck after contractors reneged on a promise to pay $1.75 a day.
1894 Rail union leader Eugene V. Debs is arrested during the Pullman strike, described by the New York Times as “a struggle between the greatest and most important Labor organization and the entire railroad capital,” involving some 250,000 workers in 27 states at its peak.
1988 Explosions and fires destroy the Piper Alpha drilling platform in the North Sea, killing 167 oil workers — the worst loss of life ever in an offshore oil disaster. The operator, Occidental, was found guilty of having inadequate maintenance and safety procedures, but no criminal charges were ever brought.

1882 Striking New York longshoremen meet to discuss ways to keep new immigrants from scabbing. They were successful, at least for a time. On July 14, 500 newly arrived Jews marched straight from their ship to the union hall. On July 15, 250 Italian immigrants stopped scabbing on the railroad and joined the union.
1903 Mary Harris “Mother” Jones begins “The March of the Mill Children,” when, accompanied part of the way by children, she walked from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s home on Long Island to protest the plight of child laborers. One of her demands: reduce the children’s work week to 55 hours.
1931 Workers begin construction on the Boulder Dam (now known as Hoover Dam) on the Colorado River, during the Great Depression. Wages and conditions were horrible — 16 workers and work camp residents died of the heat over just a single 30-day period — and two strikes over the four years of construction led to only nominal improvements in pay and conditions.

1966 – Some 35,000 members of the Machinists union begin what is to become a 43-day strike that shuts down five major U.S. airlines, about three-fifths of domestic air traffic. The airlines were thriving, and wages were a key issue in the fight.

1918 The worst rail accident in U.S. history occurs when two trains pulled by 80-ton locomotives collided head-on at Dutchman’s curve in west Nashville, Tenn. A total of 101people died, another 171 were injured.
1935 New York City subway system managers in the Bronx attempt to make cleaning crews on the IRT line work faster by forcing the use of a 14-inch squeegee instead of the customary 10-inch tool. Six workers are fired for insubordination; a two-day walkout by the Transport Workers Union wins reversal of the directive and the workers’ reinstatement.
1953 Fourteen volunteer fire fighters and one Forest Service employee die fighting the Rattlesnake wildfire in California’s Mendocino National Forest. The blaze was set by an arsonist.
2001 Five thousand demonstrators rally at the state capitol in Columbia, S.C., in support of the “Charleston Five,” labor activists charged with felony rioting during a police attack on a 2000 longshoremen’s picket of a non-union crew unloading a ship.

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

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