This week in labor history: May 1-7

MAY 1
1830 Mary Harris “Mother” Jones born in County Cork, Ireland.
1883 Cigar makers in Cincinnati warn there could be a strike in the fall if factory owners continue to insist that they pay 30 cents per month for gas heat provided at work during mornings and evenings.
1886 Eight-hour day demonstration in Chicago and other cities begins tradition of May Day as international Labor holiday.
1901 The Cooks’ and Waiters’ Union strikes in San Francisco, demanding one day of rest per week, a 10-hour work day and a union shop for all restaurants in the city.
1931 New York City’s Empire State Building officially opens. Construction involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, and hundreds of Mohawk iron workers. Five workers died during construction.
1974 Congress enacts amendments to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, extending protections to the employees of state and local governments—protections which didn’t take effect until 1985 because of court challenges and regulation-writing problems.
2006 Rallies in cities across the U.S. for what organizers call “A Day Without Immigrants.” An estimated 100,000 immigrants and sympathizers gathered in San Jose, Calif., 200,000 in New York, 400,000 each in Chicago and Los Angeles.  In all, there were demonstrations in at least 50 cities.

MAY 2
1867 Chicago’s first Trades Assembly, formed three years earlier, sponsors a general strike by thousands of workers to enforce the state’s new eight-hour-day law. The one-week strike was unsuccessful.
1911 First Workers’ Compensation law in U.S. enacted, in Wisconsin.
1933 German police units occupied all trade unions headquarters in the country, arresting union officials and leaders. Their treasuries were confiscated and the unions abolished. Hitler announced that the German Labour Front, headed by his appointee, would replace all unions and look after the working class.
1972 A fire at the Sunshine silver mine in Kellogg, Idaho, caused the death of 91 workers who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, likely caused by toxic fumes emitted by burning polyurethane foam used as a fire retardant.

MAY 3
1886 Four striking workers are killed, at least 200 wounded, when police attack a demonstration on Chicago’s south side at the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant. The Haymarket Massacre would take place the following day.
1895 Eugene V. Debs and other leaders of the American Railway Union are jailed for six months for contempt of court in connection with Pullman railroad car strike.

MAY 4
1886 Haymarket massacre. A bomb is thrown as Chicago police start to break up a rally for strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. A riot erupts, 11 police and strikers die, mostly from gunfire, and scores more are injured.

MAY 5
1852 National Typographical Union founded, Cincinnati, Ohio. It was renamed the Int’l Typographical Union in 1869, in acknowledgment of Canadian members. When the ITU merged into CWA in 1986 it was the oldest existing union in the U.S.
1886 On Chicago’s West Side, police attack Jewish workers as they try to march into the Loop to protest slum conditions.
1886 Some 14,000 building trades workers and laborers, demanding an eight-hour work day, gather at the Milwaukee Iron Co. rolling mill in Bay View, Wisc. When they approach the mill they are fired on by 250 National Guardsmen under orders from the governor to shoot to kill. Seven died, including a 13-year-old boy.
1888 Nineteen machinists working for the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad gather in a locomotive pit to decide what to do about a wage cut. They vote to form a union, which later became the Int’l Association of Machinists.
1920 Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are arrested in Boston for murder and payroll robbery. Eventually they are executed for a crime most believe they did not commit.
1931 Heavily armed deputies and other mine owner hirelings attack striking miners in Harlan County, Ky., starting the Battle of Harlan County.
1937 Lumber strike begins in Pacific Northwest, will involve 40,000 workers by the time victory is achieved after 13 weeks: union recognition, a 50-cent-per-hour minimum wage and an eight-hour day.

MAY 6
1935 Works Progress Administration (WPA) established at a cost of $4.8 billion –– more than $100.7 billion in 2022 dollars — to provide work opportunities for millions during the Great Depression.
1937 Four hundred Black women working as tobacco stemmers walk off the job in a spontaneous revolt against poor working conditions and a $3 weekly wage at the Vaughan Co. in Richmond, Va.

MAY 7
1867 The Knights of St. Crispin union is formed at a secret meeting in Milwaukee. It grew to 50,000 members before being crushed by employers later that year.
1907 Two die, and 20 are injured in “Bloody Tuesday” as strikebreakers attempt to run San Francisco streetcars during a strike by operators. The strike was declared lost in 1908 after many more deaths, including several in scab-operated streetcar accidents.
1977 Philadelphia’s longest transit strike ends after 44 days. A key issue in the fight was the hiring and use of part-timers.

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

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