This week in labor history: May 24-30

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MAY 24
1883 After 14 years of construction and the deaths of 27 workers, the Brooklyn Bridge over New York’s East River opens. Newspapers call it “the eighth wonder of the world.”
1995 Some 2,300 members of the United Rubber Workers, on strike for 10 months against five Bridgestone-Firestone plants, agree to return to work without a contract. They had been fighting demands for 12-hour shifts and wage increases tied to productivity gains.

MAY 25
1805 Pressured by employers, striking shoemakers in Philadelphia are arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy for violating an English common law that bars schemes aimed at forcing wage increases. The strike was broken.
1886 Philip Murray is born in Scotland. He went on to emigrate to the U.S., become founder and first president of the United Steelworkers of America, and head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) from 1940 until his death in 1952.
1925 Two company houses occupied by non-union coal miners are blown up and destroyed during a strike against the Glendale Gas & Coal Co. in Wheeling, W. Va.
1932 Thousands of unemployed WWI veterans arrive in Washington, D.C., to demand early payment of a bonus they had been told they would get, but not until 1945. They built a shantytown near the U.S. Capitol but were burned out by U.S. troops after two months.
1936 The notorious 11-month Remington Rand strike begins. The strike spawned the “Mohawk Valley (N.Y.) formula,” described by investigators as a corporate plan to discredit union leaders, frighten the public with the threat of violence, employ thugs to beat up strikers, and other tactics. The National Labor Relations Board termed the formula “a battle plan for industrial war.”
1962 The AFL-CIO begins what is to become an unsuccessful campaign for a 35-hour workweek, with the goal of reducing unemployment. Earlier tries by Organized Labor for 32- or 35-hour weeks also failed.
2018 President Donald Trump signs a series of executive orders designed to make it easier to fire federal employees, limiting the ability of unions to defend their members, and directing federal agencies to renegotiate federal employee union contracts so as to “reduce waste.”  David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees said the actions are “more than union busting – it’s democracy busting.”  A federal judge (who had been appointed by Pres. Barack Obama) later struck down key parts of the orders.

MAY 26
1824 Men and women weavers in Pawtucket, R.I., stage nation’s first “co-ed” strike.
1894 Western Federation of Miners members strike for eight-hour day, Cripple Creek, Colo.
1902 American Labor Union founded.
1913 Actors’ Equity Assn. is founded by 112 actors at a meeting in New York City’s Pabst Grand Circle Hotel. Producer George M. Cohan responds: “I will drive an elevator for a living before I will do business with any actors’ union.”  Later a sign will appear in Times Square reading: “Elevator operator wanted. George M. Cohan need not apply.”
1920 IWW Marine Transport Workers strike, Philadelphia.
1937 Some 100,000 steel workers and miners in mines owned by steel companies strike in seven states. The Memorial Day Massacre, in which 10 strikers were killed by police at Republic Steel in Chicago, took place four days later, on May 30.
1937 Ford Motor Co. security guards attack union organizers and supporters attempting to distribute literature outside the plant in Dearborn, Mich., in an event that was to become known as the “Battle of the Overpass.” The guards tried to destroy any photos showing the attack, but some survived — and inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography.

MAY 27
1935 The U.S. Supreme Court declares the Depression-era National Industrial Recovery Act to be unconstitutional, about a month before it was set to expire.
1959 The CIO-affiliated Insurance Workers of America merges with its AFL counterpart, the Insurance Agents International Union, to form the Insurance Workers International Union. The union later became part of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

MAY 28
1835 The Ladies Shoe Binders Society formed in New York.
1912 Fifteen women were dismissed from their jobs at the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia for dancing the Turkey Trot. They were on their lunch break, but management thought the dance too racy.
1946 At least 30,000 workers in Rochester, N.Y., participate in a general strike in support of municipal workers who had been fired for forming a union.

MAY 29
1941 Animators working for Walt Disney begin what was to become a successful five-week strike for recognition of their union, the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild. The animated feature Dumbo was being created at the time and, according to Wikipedia, a number of strikers are caricatured in the feature as clowns who go to “hit the big boss for a raise.”
1946 A contract between the United Mine Workers and the U.S. government establishes one of the nation’s first union medical and pension plans, the multi-employer UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund.
1996 The United Farm Workers of America reaches agreement with Bruce Church Inc. on a contract for 450 lettuce harvesters, ending a 17-year-long boycott. The pact raised wages, provided company-paid health benefits to workers and their families, created a seniority system to deal with seasonal layoffs and recalls, and established a pesticide monitoring system.
2009 UAW members at General Motors accept major contract concessions in return for 17.5 percent stake in the financially struggling company.

MAY 30
1929 – The Ford Motor Company signs a “Technical Assistance” contract to produce cars in the Soviet Union, and Ford workers are sent to the Soviet Union to train the labor force in the use of its parts. Many American workers who made the trip, including Walter Reuther, a tool and die maker who later was to become the UAW’s president, returned home with a different view of the duties and privileges of the industrial laborer.
1937 – In what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre, police open fire on striking steelworkers at Republic Steel in South Chicago, killing 10 and wounding more than 160.
2002 – The Ground Zero cleanup at the site of the World Trade Center is completed three months ahead of schedule due to the heroic efforts of more than 3,000 building tradesmen and women who had worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the previous eight months.

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

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