This week in labor history: May 10-16

MAY 10
1869 Thanks to an army of thousands of Chinese and Irish immigrants, who laid 2,000 miles of track, the nation’s first transcontinental railway line was finished by the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines at Promontory Point, Utah.
1898 U.S. & Canadian workers form Western Labor Union. It favors industrial organization and independent labor party politics.
2005 A federal bankruptcy judge permits United Airlines to legally abandon responsibility for pensions covering 120,000 employees.

MAY 11
1894 Nationwide railway strike begins at Pullman, Ill. Nearly 260,000 railroad workers ultimately joined the strike to protest wage cuts by the Pullman Palace Car Co.
1953 Seventeen crewmen on the iron ore freighter Henry Steinbrenner die when the ship, carrying nearly 7,000 tons of ore, sinks during a violent storm on Lake Erie. Another 16 crewmen survived.

MAY 12
2008U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raid the Agriprocessors, Inc. slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, arresting nearly 400 immigrant workers.  Some 300 are convicted on document fraud charges. The raid was the largest ever until that date. Several employees and lower and mid-level managers were convicted on various charges, but not the owner—although he later was jailed for bank fraud and related crimes.

MAY 13
1893 Western Federation of Miners formed in Butte, Mont.
1909 The Canadian government establishes the Department of Labour. It took the U.S. another four years.
1913 Some 10,000 IWW dock workers strike in Philadelphia.
1980 UAW President Douglas A. Fraser is named to the Chrysler Corp. board of directors, becoming the first union representative ever to sit on the board of a major U.S. corporation.
1998 Thousands of yellow cab drivers in New York City go on a one-day strike in protest of proposed new regulations. “City officials were stunned by the (strike’s) success,” The New York Times reported.

MAY 14
1953 Milwaukee brewery workers begin 10-week strike, demanding contracts comparable to East and West Coast workers. The strike was won because Blatz Brewery accepted their demands, but Blatz was ousted from the Brewers Association for “unethical” business methods.

MAY 15
1891 Pope Leo XIII issues revolutionary encyclical Rerum Novarum in defense of workers and the right to organize. Forty years later to the day, Pope Pius XI issues Quadragesimo anno, believed by many to be even more radical than Leo XIII’s.
1906 U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Samuel Gompers and other union leaders for supporting a boycott at the Buck Stove and Range Co. in St. Louis, where workers were striking for a 9-hour day. A lower court had forbidden the boycott and sentenced the unionists to prison for refusing to obey the judge’s anti-boycott injunction.
1917 The Library Employees’ Union is founded in New York City, the first union of public library workers in the United States. A major focus of the union was the inferior status of women library workers and their low salaries.
1920 The first labor bank opens in Washington, D.C., launched by officers of the Machinists. The Locomotive Engineers opened a bank in Cleveland later that year.
1942 Death of IWW songwriter T-Bone Slim, New York City.
1973 – Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitney reports that AFL-CIO President George Meany, Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland and other union officials are among the 60 leading stockholders in the 15,000-acre Punta Cana, Dominican Republic resort. When the partners needed help clearing the land, the Dominican president sent troops to forcibly evict stubborn, impoverished tobacco farmers and fishermen who had lived there for generations, according to Kwitney’s expose.

MAY 16
1934 Minneapolis general strike backs Teamsters, who are striking most of the city’s trucking companies.
1938 U.S. Supreme Court issues Mackay decision, which permits the permanent replacement of striking workers. The decision had little impact until Ronald Reagan’s replacement of striking air traffic controllers (PATCO) in 1981, a move that signaled anti-union private sector employers that it was OK to do likewise.
1979 Black Labor leader and peace activist A. Philip Randolph dies. He was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and first Black on the AFL-CIO executive board, and a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

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

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