This week in labor history: April 15-21

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APRIL 15
1889 – A. Philip Randolph, civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, born in Crescent City, Fla.
1912 – Eight members of the Musicians union die in the sinking of the Titanic. According to survivors, they played their instruments until nearly the end. Five weeks later a concert organized by the union to benefit the musicians’ families, held in a theater donated for the evening by impresario Flo Ziegfeld, featured the talents of 500 musicians. The evening ended with a rendering of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the hymn being played as the ship went down. The union at the time was called the Musical Mutual Protective Union Local 310, the New York affiliate of the American Federation of Musicians.
1915 – IWW union Agricultural Workers Organization formed in Kansas City, Mo.
1916 – Teacher unionists gather at the City Club on Plymouth Court in Chicago to form a new national union: the American Federation of Teachers.
1919 – Start of ultimately successful six-day strike across New England by one of the earliest women-led American unions, the Telephone Operators Department of IBEW.
1934 – Transport Workers Union founded.
1955 – The first McDonald’s restaurant opens, in Des Plaines, Ill., setting the stage years later for sociologist Amitai Etzioni to coin the term “McJob.” As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a McJob is “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

APRIL 16
1916 – Employers lock out 25,000 New York City garment workers in a dispute over hiring practices. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union calls a general strike; after 14 weeks, 60,000 strikers win union recognition and the contractual right to strike.
1947 – Five hundred workers in Texas City, Texas die in a series of huge oil refinery and chemical plant explosions and fires.
2000 – An estimated 20,000 global justice activists blockade Washington, D.C., meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

APRIL 17
1905 – The Supreme Court holds that a maximum-hours law for New York bakery workers is unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
2013 – An explosion at a West Texas fertilizer plant kills 15 people and injures nearly 300 when 30 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate—stored in sheds without sprinkler systems — caught fire. Of those killed, 10 were emergency responders.

APRIL 18
1912 – West Virginia coal miners strike, defend selves against National Guard.
1941 – After a four-week boycott led by Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., bus companies in New York City agree to hire 200 Black drivers and mechanics.

APRIL 19
1911 – In Grand Rapids, Michigan, the nation’s “Furniture City,” more than 6,000 immigrant workers — Germans, Dutch, Lithuanians and Poles — put down their tools and struck 59 factories for four months in what was to become known as the Great Furniture Strike.
1995 – An American domestic terrorist’s bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, 99 of whom were government employees.

APRIL 20
1912 – Nearly 10,000 demonstrators celebrate textile workers’ win of a 10 percent pay hike and grievance committees after a one-month strike, Lowell, Mass.
1914 – Ludlow massacre: Colorado state militia, using machine guns and fire, kill about 20 people — including 11 children — at a tent city set up by striking coal miners.
1948 – An unknown assailant shoots through a window at United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther as he is eating dinner at his kitchen table, permanently impairing his right arm. It was one of at least two assassination attempts on Reuther. He and his wife later died in a small plane crash under what many believe to be suspicious circumstances.
1968 – National Association of Post Office Mail Handlers, Watchmen, Messengers & Group Leaders merge with Laborers.
1980 – United Auto Workers members end a successful 172-day strike against International Harvester, protesting management demands for new work rules and mandatory overtime provisions.

APRIL 21
1967 – New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller signs Taylor Law, permitting union organization and bargaining by public employees, but outlawing the right to strike.
1997 – Some 12,500 Goodyear Tire workers strike nine plants in what was to become a three-week walkout over job security, wage and benefit issues.
2015 – Mary Doyle Keefe, who in 1943 posed as “Rosie the Riveter” for famed painter Norman Rockwell, dies at age 92 in Simsbury, Connecticut. Published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in May 1943, Rosie came to symbolize women factory workers during World War II. (The Rockwell painting is sometimes conjoined in peoples’ memories with a similarly-themed poster by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, “We Can Do It!” created the year before.)

(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 www.unionist.com.)

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