This week in labor history: May 31-June 6

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MAY 31
1889 The Johnstown Flood. More than 2,200 die when a dam holding back a private resort lake burst upstream of Johnstown, Penn. The resort was owned by wealthy industrialists including Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Neither they nor any other members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club were found guilty of fault, despite the fact the group had created the lake out of an abandoned reservoir.
1943 Some 25,000 white autoworkers walk off the job at a Detroit Packard Motor Car Co. plant, heavily involved in wartime production, when three black workers are promoted to work on a previously all-white assembly line. The black workers were relocated, and the whites returned.
1997 Rose Will Monroe, popularly known as Rosie the Riveter, dies in Clarksville, Ind. During WWII she helped bring women into the labor force.

JUNE 1
1888 The Ladies Federal Labor Union Number 2703, based in Illinois, was granted a charter from the American Federation of Labor. Women from a wide range of occupations were among the members, who ultimately were successful in coalescing women’s groups interested in suffrage, temperance, health, housing and child labor reform to win state legislation in these areas.
1898 Congress passes the Erdman Act, providing for voluntary mediation or arbitration of railroad disputes and prohibiting contracts that discriminate against union labor or release employers from legal liability for on-the-job injuries.
1903 Nearly 3,500 immigrant miners begin Clifton-Morenci, Ariz., copper strike.
1916 Some 12,500 longshoremen strike the Pacific coast, from San Diego to Bellingham, Wash. Demands included a closed shop and a wage increase to 55 cents an hour for handling general cargo.
1922 As many as 60,000 railroad shopmen strike to protest cuts in wages.
1944 Extinguishing the light of hope in the hearts and aspirations of workers around the world, the Mexican government abolishes siestas — a mid-afternoon nap and work break which lengthened the workday but got people through brutally hot summer days.
1966 Farm workers under the banner of the new United Farm Workers Organizing Committee strike at Texas’s La Casita Farms, demand $1.25 as a minimum hourly wage.
2000 Dakota Beef meatpackers win seven-hour sit-down strike over speed-ups, St. Paul, Minn.
2009 General Motors files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The filing made the automaker the largest U.S. industrial company to enter bankruptcy protection. It went on to recover thanks to massive help from the UAW and the federal government.

JUNE 2
1786 Twenty-six journeymen printers in Philadelphia stage the trade’s first strike in America over wages: a cut in their $6 weekly pay.
1924 A constitutional amendment declaring that “Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under 18 years of age” is approved by the Senate, following the lead of the House five weeks earlier. But only 28 state legislatures ever ratified the amendment — the last three in 1937 — so it has never taken effect.
1952 The U.S. Supreme Court rules that President Harry Truman acted illegally when he ordered the Army to seize the nation’s steel mills to avert a strike.
1976 Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and Textile Workers Union of America merge to form Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union.

JUNE 3
1900 Int’l Ladies Garment Workers Union founded.
1918 A federal child Labor law, enacted two years earlier, was declared unconstitutional.
1935 More than 1,000 Canadian men, working at “Royal Twenty Centers” established by the Canadian government to provide work for single, unemployed homeless males during the Great Depression, begin an “On to Ottawa Trek” to protest conditions at the camps. They were being paid 20 cents a day plus food and shelter to build roads, plant trees and construct public buildings.
2004 The National Labor Relations Board rules that tribal governments and their enterprises are subject to federal Labor law.

JUNE 4
1912 Massachusetts becomes the first state to establish a minimum wage.
1947 The House of Representatives approves the Taft-Hartley Act. The legislation allows the president of the United States to intervene in Labor disputes. President Truman vetoed the law but was overridden by Congress.
1956 The AFL-CIO opens its new headquarters building, in view of the White House.
1975 Gov. Jerry Brown signs the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law in the U.S. giving farmworkers collective bargaining rights. The legislation came after years of effort by the United Farm Workers union.

JUNE 5
1976 Thirty-five members of the Teamsters, concerned about the infiltration of organized crime in the union and other issues, meet in Cleveland to form Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
1998 A strike begins at a General Motors Corp. parts factory in Flint, Mich., that spreads and ultimately forces the closure of GM plants across the country for seven weeks. The Flint workers were protesting the removal of key dies from their plant and feared their jobs would be lost. The company ended the dispute by assuring the plant would remain open until at least the year 2000.

JUNE 6
1933 The U.S. Employment Service was created.
1937 A general strike by some 12,000 autoworkers and others in Lansing, Mich., shuts down the city for a month in what was to become known as the city’s “Labor Holiday.” The strike was precipitated by the arrest of nine workers, including the wife of the auto workers’ local union president: The arrest left three children in the couple’s home unattended.
1948 U.S. President Harry S. Truman and American Federation of Musicians President James Petrillo perform a musical duet at the union’s convention in Asbury Park, N.J.
1996 Labor Party founding convention opens in Cleveland, Ohio.

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

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