This week in labor history: June 29-July 5

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JUNE 29
1885 – What is to be a seven-day streetcar strike begins in Chicago after several workers are unfairly fired. Wrote the police chief at the time, describing the strikers’ response to scabs: “One of my men said he was at the corner of Halsted and Madison Streets, and although he could see 50 stones in the air, he couldn’t tell where they were coming from.” The strike was settled to the workers’ satisfaction.

1934 – An executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the National Labor Relations Board.  A predecessor organization, the National Labor Board, established by the Depression-era National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, had been struck down by the Supreme Court.

1987 – The newly-formed Jobs With Justice stages its first big support action, backing 3,000 picketing Eastern Airlines mechanics at Miami Airport.

JUNE 30
1928 – Alabama outlaws the leasing of convicts to mine coal, a practice that had been in place since 1848. In 1898, 73 percent of the state’s total revenue came from this source. Twenty-five percent of all Black leased convicts died on the job.

1998 – Up to 40,000 New York construction workers demonstrate in midtown Manhattan, protesting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s awarding of a $33 million contract to a nonunion company. Eighteen police and three demonstrators were injured. “There were some scattered incidents and some minor violence,” Police Commissioner Howard Safir told the New York Post. “Generally, it was a pretty well-behaved crowd.”

JULY 1
1929 – Some 1,100 streetcar workers strike in New Orleans, spurring the creation of the po’ boy sandwich by a local sandwich shop owner and one-time streetcar man. “Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming,” Bennie Martin later recalled, “one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’” Martin and his wife fed any striker who showed up.

1956 – In what was to be a month-long strike, 650,000 steelworkers shut down the industry while demanding a number of wage and working condition improvements.  They won all their demands, including a union shop.

1983 – Copper miners begin a years-long, bitter strike against Phelps-Dodge in Clifton, Ariz. Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt repeatedly deployed state police and National Guardsmen to assist the company over the course of the strike, which broke the union.

JULY 2
1962 – The first Walmart store opens in Rogers, Ark. By 2014, the company had 10,000 stores in 27 countries, under 71 different names, employing more than two million people. It is known in the U.S. and most of the other countries in which it operates for low wages and extreme anti-unionism.

1964 – President Johnson signs Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, forbidding employers and unions from discriminating on the basis of race, color, gender, nationality, or religion.

2009 – The Labor Dept. reports that U.S. employers cut 467,000 jobs over the prior month, driving the nation’s unemployment rate up to a 26-year high of 9.5 percent.

JULY 3
1835 – Children, employed in the silk mills in Paterson, N.J., go on strike for 11-hour day and six-day week. A compromise settlement resulted in a 69-hour work week.

1860 – Feminist and labor activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman born in Hartford, Conn. Her landmark study, “Women and Economics,” was radical: it called for the financial independence of women and urged a network of child care centers.

JULY 4
1924 – Five newspaper boys from the Baltimore Evening Sun die when the steamer they were on, the Three Rivers, caught fire near Baltimore, Md. They are remembered every year at a West Baltimore cemetery.

1950 – Two primary conventions of the United Nations’ Int’l Labor Organization come into force: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.

2004 – Building trades workers lay the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower on the site of the World Trade Center in New York City.  The WTC had been leveled by a terrorist attack three years earlier.  Nearly 3,000 died at the WTC and in other attacks in the eastern U.S. on the same day.

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 are 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.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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