This week in labor history: June 17 –23

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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.
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.
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 work day adopted for federal employees.
1917 – AFL President Samuel 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 was founded a year later. The tactic launched 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 used tear gas on women and children, including at least one infant in his mother’s arms, during a strike at Republic Steel. One union organizer later recalled, “When I got there I thought the Great War had started over again. Gas was flying all over the place and shots flying and flares going up and it was the first time I had ever seen anything like it in my life....”
1953 – ILWU begins a four-day general strike in sugar, pineapple, and longshore 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 began traveling through the Alaska pipeline. Seventy thousand people worked on building the pipeline, history’s largest privately-financed construction project.
2006 – Evelyn Dubrow, described by the New York Times as Organized Labor’s most prominent lobbyist at the time of its greatest power, dies at age 95. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union lobbyist once told the Times that “she trudged so many miles around Capitol Hill that she wore out 24 pairs of her size four shoes each year.” She retired at age 86.

JUNE 21
1802 – In England, a compassionate parliament declares that children can’t be required to work more than 12 hours a day. And they must have an hour’s instruction in the Christian Religion every Sunday and not be required to sleep more than two in a bed.
1877 – Ten miners accused of being militant “Molly Maguires” are hanged in Pennsylvania. A private corporation initiated the investigation of the 10 through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested them, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. “The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows,” a judge said many years later.
1948 – The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the right of unions to publish statements urging members to vote for a specific congressional candidate, ruling that such advocacy is not a violation of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act.
1997 – An estimated 100,000 unionists and other supporters march in solidarity with striking Detroit News and Detroit Free Press newspaper workers.

JUNE 22
1918 – A total of 86 passengers on a train carrying members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus are killed, another 127 injured in a wreck near Hammond, Indiana. Five days later the dead are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Ill., in an area set aside as Showmen’s Rest, purchased only a few months earlier by the Showmen’s League of America.
1922 – Violence erupted during a coal mine strike at Herrin, Ill. A total of 36 were killed, 21 of them non-union miners.

JUNE 23
1914 – Charles Moyer, president of the Western Federation of Miners, goes to Butte, Mont. in an attempt to mediate a conflict between factions of the miner’s local there. It didn’t go well. Gunfight in the union hall killed one man; Moyer and other union officers left the building, which was then leveled in a dynamite blast.
1947 – Congress overrides President Harry Truman’s veto of the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act. The law weakened unions and let states exempt themselves from union requirements. Twenty states immediately enacted open shop laws and more followed.
1978 – OSHA issues standard on cotton dust to protect 600,000 workers from byssinosis, also known as “brown lung.”
1999 – A majority of the 5,000 textile workers at six Fieldcrest Cannon textile plants in Kannapolis, N.C., vote for union representation after an historic 25-year fight.

(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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