This week in labor history: September 2-8

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SEPTEMBER 2
1885 – White and Chinese immigrants battle in Rock Springs, Wyo., fueled by racial tensions and the practice of Union Pacific Railroad of hiring lower-paid Chinese over whites. At least 25 Chinese died and 15 more were injured. Rioters burned 75 Chinese homes.
1916 – Operating railway employees win eight-hour day.
1921 – Mine owners bomb West Virginia strikers by plane, using homemade bombs filled with nails and metal fragments. The bombs missed their targets or failed to explode.
1954 – President Eisenhower signs legislation expanding Social Security by providing much wider coverage and including 10 million additional Americans, most of them self-employed farmers, with additional benefits.
1974 – The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed by President Ford, regulating and insuring pensions and other benefits, and increasing protections for workers.

SEPTEMBER 3
1891 – African-American cotton pickers organize and strike in Lee County, Texas, against miserably low wages and other injustices, including a growers’ arrangement with local law enforcement to round up blacks on vagrancy charges, then force them to work off their fines on select plantations. Over the course of September a white mob put down the strike, killing 15 strikers in the process.
1928 – Some 300 musicians working in Chicago movie houses strike to protest their impending replacement by talking movies.
1991 – Twenty-five workers die, unable to escape a fire at the Imperial Poultry processing plant in Hamlet, N.C. Managers had locked fire doors to prevent the theft of chicken nuggets. The plant had operated for 11 years without a single safety inspection.

SEPTEMBER 4
1894 – Twelve thousand New York tailors strike over sweatshop conditions.
1949 – More than 140 attendees at a benefit for a civil rights group are injured in the “Peekskill Riots” in Peekskill, N.Y. The victims were among the 20,000 people leaving a concert featuring African-American Paul Robeson, well-known for his strong pro-unionism, civil rights activism and left-wing affiliations. The departing concert-goers had to drive through a miles-long gauntlet of rock-throwing racists and others.
1991 – In what many believe was to become the longest strike in U.S. history, 600 Teamster-represented workers walk out at the Diamond Walnut processing plant in Stockton, Calif., after the company refused to restore a 30-percent pay cut they had earlier taken to help out the company. The two sides ultimately agreed to a new contract after 14 years.

SEPTEMBER 5
1882 – Between 20,000 and 30,000 marchers participate in New York’s first Labor Day parade, demanding the eight-hour day.
1917 – “Palmer raids” on all Wobbly halls and offices in 48 U.S. cities, ordered by U.S. Attorney General Alexander Palmer, who was rounding up leftists and so-called radicals.
1934 – Ten thousand angry textile strikers, fighting for better wages and working conditions, besiege a factory in Fall River, Mass., where 300 strikebreakers are working. The scabs are rescued by police using tear gas and pistols on the strikers.
1946 – General strike begins across U.S. maritime industry, stopping all shipping. The strikers were objecting to the government’s post-war National Wage Stabilization Board order that reduced pay increases negotiated by maritime unions.

SEPTEMBER 6
1869 – One of the worst disasters in the history of U.S. anthracite mining occurred at the Avondale Mine, near Scranton, Pa., when a fire originating from a furnace at the bottom of a 237-foot shaft roared up the shaft, killing 110 miners.
1973 – Tony Boyle, former president of the United Mine Workers, is charged with murder in the 1969 deaths of former UMW rival Joseph A. Yablonski and his wife and daughter.

SEPTEMBER 7
1916 – Federal employees win the right to receive Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage.

SEPTEMBER 8
1909 – Employers give in to the demands of thousands of Wobblies-led striking railroad car production workers in McKees Rocks, Pa., agree to improved working conditions, a 15 percent hike in wages and elimination of a “pool system” that gave foremen control over each worker’s pay.
1965 – United Farm Workers union begins historic national grape boycott and strike, Delano, Calif.
1997 – Some 2,600 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers begin what is to be a successful six-day strike for higher pay and against a two-tier wage system.

(Labor History is provided by Union Communications Services, since 1981 North America’s premier publisher and distributor of newsletters, leadership training programs for shop stewards and officers, website materials and other powerful use-it-today strategies and tools to help leaders and activists build union power. Reach them at unionist.com.)

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