This week in labor history: July 5-11

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JULY 5
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.

JULY 6
1889 Two strikers and a bystander are killed, 30 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.
1892 Two barges, loaded with Pinkerton thugs hired by the Carnegie Steel Co., land on the south bank of the Monongahela River in Homestead, Pa., seeking to occupy Carnegie Steel Works and put down a strike by members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers.
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” that involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states at its peak.
1926 Transit workers in New York begin what is to be an unsuccessful three-week strike against the then-privately owned IRT subway. Most transit workers labored seven days a week, up to 11.5 hours a day.
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.

JULY 7
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.
1910 Cloak makers begin what is to be a two-month strike against New York City sweatshops.
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.
1998 Some 500,000 people participate when a two-day general strike is called in Puerto Rico by more than 60 trade unions and many other organizations protesting privatization of the island’s telephone company.

JULY 8
1842 First anthracite coal strike in U.S.
1862 Labor organizer Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor born on Staten Island, N.Y. Among her activities: investigating child labor in glass factories and mines, and working undercover in meat packing plants to verify for federal investigators the nightmarish working conditions that author Upton Sinclair had revealed in The Jungle.
1867 The Pacific Mail Steamship Co. fires all employees who had been working an eight-hour day, then joins with other owners to form the “Ten-Hour League Society” for the purpose of uniting all mechanics “willing to work at the old rates, neither unjust to the laborers nor ruinous to the capital and enterprise of the city and state.” The effort failed.
1905 Founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W., or Wobblies) concludes in Chicago. Charles O. Sherman, a former American Federation of Labor organizer, is elected president.
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.

JULY 9
1918 The worst rail accident in U.S. history occurs when two trains pulled by 80-ton locomotives collides head-on at Dutchman’s curve in west Nashville, Tenn. A total of 101people died, another 171 were injured.
1923 New England Telephone “girls” strike for seven-hour workday, $27 weekly pay after four years’ service.
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.
1968 United Packinghouse, Food & Allied Workers merge with Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen.
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.

JULY 10
1875 Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and civil rights activist, born.
1894 Some 14,000 federal and state troops finally succeed in putting down the strike against the Pullman Palace Car Co., which had been peaceful until July 5 when federal troops intervened in Chicago against the repeated protests of the governor and Chicago’s mayor. A total of 34 American Railway Union members were killed by troops over the course of the strike.
1902 A powerful explosion rips through the Rolling Mill coal mine in Johnstown, Pa., killing 112 miners, 83 of whom were immigrants from Poland and Slovakia.
1916 The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce holds a mass meeting of more than 2,000 merchants to organize what was to become a frontal assault on union strength and the closed shop. The failure of wages to keep up with inflation after the 1906 earthquake had spurred multiple strikes in the city.
1946 Sidney Hillman dies at age 59. He led the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, was a key figure in the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and was a close advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

JULY 11
1892 Striking coal miners in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, dynamite barracks housing Pinkerton management thugs.
1936 After seven years of labor by as many as 2,800 construction workers, the Triborough Bridge opens in New York. Actually a complex of three bridges, it connects the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. Construction began on Black Friday, 1929, and New Deal money turned it into one of the largest public works projects of the Great Depression.
1983 A nine-year strike begins at the Ohio Crankshaft Division of Park-Ohio Industries in Cleveland.   Overcoming scabs, arrests and firings, UAW Local 91 members hung on and approved a contract in 1992 with the company — now under new management — that included company-funded health and retirement benefits, as well as pay increases.

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

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