This week in labor history: March 6-12

MARCH 6
1886 The Knights of Labor picket to protest the practices of the Southwestern Railroad system, and the company’s chief, high-flying Wall Street financier Jay Gould. Some 9,000 workers walked off the job, halting service on 5,000 miles of track. The workers held out for two months, many suffering from hunger before they finally returned to work.
1930 With the Great Depression underway, hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers demonstrated in some 30 cities and towns; close to 100,000 filled Union Square in New York City and were attacked by mounted police.
1970 The federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act is enacted.
1978 President Jimmy Carter invoked the Taft-Hartley law to halt the 1977-78 national contract strike by the United Mine Workers of America. The order was ignored and Carter did little to enforce it. A settlement was reached in late March.

MARCH 7
1932 Three thousand unemployed auto workers, led by the Communist Party of America, braved the cold in Dearborn, Mich., to demand jobs and relief from Henry Ford. The marchers got too close to the gate and were gassed. After re-grouping, they were sprayed with water and shot at. Four men died immediately; 60 were wounded.
1937 – Steel Workers Organizing Committee — soon to become the United Steel Workers — signs its first-ever contract, with Carnegie-Illinois, for $5 a day in wages and benefits.
1988 – Hollywood writers represented by the Writers Guild of America strike against 200 television and movie studios over residual payments and creative rights. The successful strike lasted 150 days, one of the longest in industry history.

MARCH 8
1924 – Three explosions at a Utah Fuel Co. mine in Castle Gate, Utah, kill 171. Fifty of the fatalities were native-born Greeks, 25 were Italians, 32 English or Scots, 12 Welsh, four Japanese, and three Austrians (or South Slavs). The youngest victim was 15; the oldest, 73.
1926 – New York members of the Fur and Leather Workers Union, many of them women, strike for better pay and conditions. They persevere despite beatings by police, winning a 10 percent wage increase and a five-day workweek.
1979 – César Chávez leads 5,000 striking farmworkers on a march through the streets of Salinas, Calif.

MARCH 9
1912 – The Westmoreland County (Pa.) Coal Strike — known as the “Slovak strike” because some 70 percent of the 15,000 strikers were Slovakian immigrants — begins on this date and continues for nearly 16 months before ending in defeat. Sixteen miners and family members were killed during the strike.
1933 – Spurred by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. Congress begins its 100 days of enacting New Deal legislation. Just one of many programs established to help Americans survive the Great Depression: The Civilian Conservation Corps, which put 2.5 million young men on the government payroll to help in national conservation and infrastructure projects.
1974 – Work begins on the $8 billion, 800-mile-long Alaska Oil pipeline connecting oil fields in northern Alaska to the seaport at Valdez. Tens of thousands of people worked on the pipeline, enduring long hours, cold temperatures and brutal conditions. At least 32 died on the job.

MARCH 10
1919 – U.S. Supreme Court upholds espionage conviction of labor leader and socialist Eugene V. Debs. Debs was jailed for speaking out against World War I. Campaigning for president from his Atlanta jail cell, he won 3.4 percent of the vote — nearly a million votes.
1941 – New York City bus drivers, members of the Transport Workers Union, go on strike. After 12 days of no buses — and a large show of force by Irish-American strikers at the St. Patrick’s Day parade — Mayor Fiorello La Guardia orders arbitration.
1968 United Farm Workers leader César Chávez breaks a 24-day fast, by doctor’s order, at a mass in Delano, California’s public park. Several thousand supporters are at his side, including Sen. Robert Kennedy. Chavez called it “a fast for non-violence and a call to sacrifice.”

MARCH 11
1811 Luddites smash 63 “labor-saving” textile machines near Nottingham, England.
1950 Transport Workers Union members at American Airlines win 11-day national strike, gaining what the union says was the first severance pay clause in the industry.

MARCH 12
1904 The first tunnel under the Hudson River is completed after 30 years of drilling, connecting Jersey City and Manhattan. In just one of many tragedies during the project, 20 workers died on a single day in 1880 when the tunnel flooded.
1912 – The Lawrence, Mass., “Bread and Roses” textile strike ends when the American Woolen Co. agrees to most of the strikers’ demands; other textile companies quickly followed suit.
2004 Steelworkers approve a settlement with Oregon Steel Mills, Inc. and its CF&I Steel subsidiary, ending the longest labor dispute in the USWA’s history and resulting in more than $100 million in back pay for workers.

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

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