Friday, January 15, 2016

Today in Labor History

Wobbly Ralph Chaplin, in Chicago for a demonstration against hunger, completes the writing of the labor anthem “Solidarity Forever” on this date in 1915. He’d begun writing it in 1914 during a miners’ strike in Huntington, W. Va. The first verse:
When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong – 1915
Seventeen workers in the area die when a large molasses storage tank in Boston’s North End neighborhood bursts, sending a 40-foot wave of molasses surging through the streets at an estimated 35 miles per hour.  In all, 21 people died and 150 were injured.  The incident is variously known as the Boston Molasses Disaster, the Great Molasses Flood and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy.  Some residents claim that on hot summer days, the area still smells of molasses - 1919

Martin Luther King Jr. born - 1929
(All Labor Has Dignity: Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. King's speeches on labor rights and economic justice underscore his relevance for today. They help us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to unions and an end to poverty was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda.)

The CIO miners' union in the Grass Valley area of California strikes for higher wages, union recognition, and the 8-hour day. The strike was defeated when vigilantes and law enforcement officials expelled 400 miners and their families from the area - 1938

The Pentagon, to this day the largest office building in the world, is dedicated just 16 months after groundbreaking. At times of peak employment 13,000 workers labored on the project – 1943

January 14
Clinton-era OSHA issues confined spaces standard to prevent more than 50 deaths and 5,000 serious injuries annually for workers who enter confined spaces - 1993
Pennsylvania Superior Court rules bosses can fire workers for being gay - 1995
Some 14,000 General Electric employees strike for two days to protest the company's mid-contract decision to shift an average of $400 in additional health care co-payments onto each worker – 2003
A 15-month lockout by the Minnesota Orchestra against members of the Twin Cities Musicians' Union, Local 30-73 ends when the musicians agree to a 15 percent pay cut (management wanted up to 40 percent) and increased health care cost sharing. They did win a revenue-sharing deal based on performance of the Orchestra's endowments. It was the nation's longest-running contract dispute for a concert orchestra - 2014

January 13
The original Tompkins Square Riot. As unemployed workers demonstrated in New York's Tompkins Square Park, a detachment of mounted police charged into the crowd, beating men, women and children with billy clubs. Declared Abram Duryee, the Commissioner of Police: "It was the most glorious sight I ever saw..." - 1874
Latino citrus workers strike in Covina, Calif. - 1919
(Exact date uncertain) As the nation debates a constitutional amendment to rein in the widespread practice of brutally overworking children in factories and fields, U.S. District Judge G.W. McClintic expresses concern, instead, about child idleness - 1924

January 12
Novelist Jack London is born. His classic definition of a scab—someone who would cross a picket line and take a striker's job: "After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles" - 1876
Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson orders police to raid an open-air mass meeting of shipyard workers in an attempt to prevent a general strike. Workers were brutally beaten. The strike began the following month, with 60,000 workers walking out in solidarity with some 25,000 metal tradesmen - 1919
President Roosevelt creates the National War Labor Board to mediate labor disputes during World War II. Despite the fact that 12 million of the nation’s workers were women—to rise to 18 million by war’s end—the panel consisted entirely of men - 1942

January 11
The IWW-organized “Bread & Roses” textile strike of 32,000 women and children begins in Lawrence, Mass. It lasted 10 weeks and ended in victory. The first millworkers to walk out were Polish women, who, upon collecting their pay, exclaimed that they had been cheated and promptly abandoned their looms - 1912
(Originally published in 1964 and long out of print, Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology remains by far the biggest and best source on IWW history, fiction, songs, art, and lore. This new edition includes 40 pages of additional material from the 1998 Charles H. Kerr edition by Fred Thompson and Franklin Rosemont, and a new preface by Wobbly organizer Daniel Gross.)

(Notice in the Minneapolis Labor Review) “Minneapolis Ice Wagon Drivers’ Union will hold an exceptionally interesting meeting Sunday, at 16 South 5th St.  A Jazz Band, dancing, boxing and good speaking are among the attractions.” - 1918

Nearly two weeks into a sit-down strike at GM’s Fisher Body Plant No. 2 in Flint, Mich., workers battle police when they try to prevent the strikers from receiving food deliveries from thousands of supporters on the outside.  Sixteen strikers and spectators and 11 police were injured.  Most of the strikers were hit by buckshot fired by police riot guns; the police were injured principally by thrown nuts, bolts, door hinges and other auto parts. The incident became known as the “Battle of the Running Bulls” - 1936

National Hockey League owners end a player lockout that had gone for three months and ten days.  A key issue was owner insistence on a salary cap, which they won - 1995

Ford Motor Co. announces it will eliminate 35,000 jobs while discontinuing four models and closing five plants - 2002

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