This week in labor history: June 14-20

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JUNE 14
1872 Unions legalized in Canada.
1951 The first commercial computer, UNIVAC I, is installed at the U.S. Census Bureau.

JUNE 15
1908 The Metal Trades Department of what is now the AFL-CIO is founded.
1947 The Congress of Industrial Organizations expels the Fur and Leather Workers union and the American Communications Association for what it describes as communist activities.
1990 Battle of Century City, as police in Los Angeles attack some 500 janitors and their supporters during a peaceful Service Employees Int’l Union demonstration against cleaning contractor ISS. The event generated public outrage that resulted in recognition of the workers’ union and spurred the creation of an annual June 15 Justice for Janitors Day.

JUNE 16
1913 Eight local unions organize the Int’l Fur Workers Union of U.S. and Canada. The union later merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen.
1918 Railroad union leader and socialist Eugene V. Debs speaks in Canton, Ohio, on the relationship between capitalism and war. Ten days later he is arrested under the Espionage Act, eventually sentenced to 10 years in jail.
1933 The National Industrial Recovery Act becomes law but is later to be declared unconstitutional. It established the right to unionize, set maximum hours and minimum wages for every major industry, abolished sweatshops and child labor. The Wagner Act, in effect today, was approved two years later to legalize unionization.
2000 Inacom Corp., once the world’s largest computer dealer, sends most of its 5,100 employees an email instructing them to call a toll-free phone number; when they call, a recorded message announces they have been fired.

JUNE 17
1864 Twenty-one young women and girls making cartridges for the Union Army at the Washington, D.C. arsenal during the Civil War are killed in an accidental explosion. Most of the victims were Irish immigrants. A monument was erected in the Congressional Cemetery, where 17 of the workers were buried.
1873 Susan B. Anthony goes on trial in Canandaigua, N.Y., for casting her ballot in a federal election the previous November, in violation of existing statutes barring women from the vote.
1903 Mary Harris “Mother” Jones leads a rally in Philadelphia to focus public attention on children mutilated in the state’s textile mills. Three weeks later the 73-year-old will lead a march to New York City to plead with President Theodore Roosevelt to help improve conditions for the children.
1936 Twelve trade unionists meet in Pittsburgh to launch a drive to organize all steelworkers. It was the birth of the United Steelworkers of America (then called the Steel Workers Organizing Committee). By the end of the year 125,000 workers joined the union in support of its $5-a-day wage demand.
1943 Ten thousand African-American tobacco leaf workers initiate a sit-down strike at the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, NC during the height of legalized segregation. The strikers’ refusal to work in poor conditions for little pay in a segregated environment sparked seven years of hard struggle for workplace democracy and influenced the trajectory of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

1972 Nine firefighters are killed, eight more injured when a large section of Boston’s Hotel Vendom collapses on them. The firefighters were performing cleanup when the collapse occurred, having successfully fought a fire at the luxury hotel earlier in the day.

JUNE 18
1941 Union and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph and others meet with President Roosevelt about a proposed July 1 March on Washington to protest discrimination in war industries. A week later, Roosevelt orders that the industries desegregate.

JUNE 19
1912 Eight-hour workday adopted for federal employees.
1917 AFL President Sam Gompers and Secretary of War Newton Baker sign an agreement establishing a three-member board of adjustment to control wages, hours and working conditions for construction workers employed on government projects. The agreement protected union wage and hour standards for the duration of World War I.
1934 – A pioneering sit-down strike is conducted by workers at a General Tire Co. factory in Akron, Ohio. The United Rubber Workers union is founded a year later. The tactic launches a wave of similar efforts in the auto and other industries over the next several years.
1937 – The Women’s Day Massacre in Youngstown, Ohio, when police use tear gas on women and children, including at least one infant in his mother’s arms, during a strike at Republic Steel.
1953 – The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) begins a four-day general strike of sugar, pineapple, and longshore work to protest convictions under the anti-communist Smith Act of seven activists, “the Hawaii Seven.” The convictions were later overturned by a federal appeals court.

JUNE 20
1848 – Birth of Albert Parsons, Haymarket martyr.
1893 – The American Railway Union, headed by Eugene Debs, is founded in Chicago. In the Pullman strike a year later, the union was defeated by federal injunctions and troops, and Debs was imprisoned for violating the injunctions.
1941 – Henry Ford recognizes the United Auto Workers, signs contract for workers at River Rouge plant.
1943 Striking African-American auto workers are attacked by KKK, National Workers League, and armed white workers at Belle Isle amusement park in Detroit. Two days of riots follow, 34 people are killed, more than 1,300 arrested.
1947 The Taft-Hartley Labor Management Relations Act, curbing strikes, is vetoed by President Harry S. Truman. The veto was overridden three days later by a Republican-controlled Congress.
1977 Oil begins traveling through the Alaska pipeline. Seventy thousand people worked on building the pipeline, history’s largest privately financed construction project.
2018 – A report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics says that nearly one in five teachers hold down an income-producing job outside the classroom.

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

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