This week in labor history: July 6-12

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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.

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.

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 collided 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.

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
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.

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.

JULY 12
1917 – Bisbee, Ariz., deports Wobblies; 1,186 miners sent into desert in manure-laden boxcars. They had been fighting for improved safety and working conditions.

1933 – The Screen Actors Guild holds its first meeting. Among those attending was future horror movie star and union activist Boris Karloff.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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