This week in labor history: March 9-15

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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 sea port 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 Kenned

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 industry.

MARCH 12
1901 – Greedy industrialist turned benevolent philanthropist Andrew Carnegie pledges $5.2 million for the construction of 65 branch libraries in New York City – barely one percent of his net worth at the time. He established more than 2,500 libraries between 1900 and 1919 following years of treating workers in his steel plants brutally, demanding long hours in horrible conditions and fighting their efforts to unionize. Carnegie made $500 million when he sold out to J.P. Morgan, becoming the world’s richest man.
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.

MARCH 13
1830 – The term “rat,” referring to a worker who betrays fellow workers, first appears in print in the New York Daily Sentinel. The newspaper was quoting a typesetter while reporting on replacement workers who had agreed to work for two-thirds of the going rate.
1884 – “The laborers on the Cape Cod ship canal refuse to work and say they will not return until better food is provided.” No further details were offered in this Trenton Times report.
1946 – A four-month UAW strike at General Motors ends with a new contract. The strikers were trying to make up for the lack of wage hikes during World War II.

MARCH 14
1863 – Fabled railroad engineer John Luther “Casey” Jones born in southeast Missouri. A member of the Railroad Engineers, he was the sole fatality in a wreck near Vaughan, Miss., on April 29, 1900. His skill and heroics prevented many more deaths.
1914 – Henry Ford announced the new continuous motion method to assemble cars. The process decreased the time to make a car from 12-and-a-half hours to 93 minutes. Goodbye, craftsmanship. Hello, drudgery.
1954 – The movie Salt of the Earth opens. The classic film centers on a long and difficult strike led by Mexican-American and Anglo zinc miners in New Mexico. Real miners perform in the film, in which the miners’ wives – as they did in real life – take to the picket lines after the strikers are enjoined. After months of union-busting activity, the union was decertified in September 2014.

MARCH 15
1887 – Official formation of the Painters Int’l Union.
1917 – Supreme Court approves Eight-Hour Act under threat of a national railway strike.
1948 – Bituminous coal miners begin nationwide strike, demanding adoption of a pension plan.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder Union Communication Services)

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