Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Today in Labor History

New York City maids organize to improve working conditions - 1734
Mine explosion in Mount Pleasant, Pa., leaves more than 100 dead - 1891
First meeting of the Int’l Labor Organization (ILO) - 1920
Kansas miners strike against compulsory arbitration - 1920
A 3¢ postage stamp is issued, honoring AFL founder Samuel Gompers - 1950

(There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America is the sympathetic, thoughtful and highly readable history of the American labor movement traces unionism from the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1820s to organized labor’s decline in the 1980s and struggle for survival and growth today.)

A group of Detroit African-American auto workers known as the Eldon Avenue Axle Plant Revolutionary Union Movement leads a wildcat strike against racism and bad working conditions.  They are critical of both automakers and the UAW, condemning the seniority system and grievance procedures as racist – 1969
Pete Seeger dies in New York at age 94. A musician and activist, he was a revered figure on the American left, persecuted during the McCarthy era for his support of  progressive, labor and civil rights causes. A prolific songwriter, he is generally credited with popularizing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” He actively participated in demonstrations until shortly before his death – 2014
Members of the Northwestern University football team announce they are seeking union recognition. A majority signed cards, later delivered to the National Labor Relations Board office in Chicago, asking for representation by the College Athletes Players Association - 2014
January 26
In what could be considered the first workers’ compensation agreement in America, pirate Henry Morgan pledges his underlings 600 pieces of eight or six slaves to compensate for a lost arm or leg. Also part of the pirate’s code, reports Roger Newell: shares of the booty were equal regardless of race or sex, and shipboard decisions were made collectively - 1695
Samuel Gompers, first AFL president, born in London, England. He emigrated to the U.S. as a youth - 1850
The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America is chartered by the American Federation of Labor to organize "every wage earner from the man who takes the bullock at the house until it goes into the hands of the consumer." - 1897
Workers win a two-day sit-down strike at the Brooklyn electric plant that powers the city's entire subway system - 1937
A handful of American companies announce nearly 60,000 layoffs today, as the recession that began during the George W. Bush presidency charges full-tilt toward what became known as the Great Recession - 2009
(Union Strategies for Hard Times, 2nd Edition: What can unions do as the fallout of the Great Recession continues to ravage workers and their unions and threatens to destroy decades of collective bargaining gains? What must local union leaders do to help their laid off members, protect those still working, and prevent the gutting of their hard-fought contracts—and their very unions themselves?
    Bill Barry, until recently director of labor studies at the Community College of Baltimore County and a 40-year veteran of the movement, calls on his long history of activism and years of "what works, what doesn’t" discussions with other leaders to come up with a plan to survive these terrible times and even use crisis to build a better future.)
January 25
Sojourner Truth addresses first Black Women’s Rights convention - 1851

The Sheet Metal Workers Int'l Association (SMWIA) is founded in Toledo, Ohio, as the Tin, Sheet Iron and Cornice Workers’ Int’l Association - 1888

Two hundred miners are killed in a horrific explosion at the Harwick mine in Cheswick, Pa., Allegheny County. Many of the dead lie entombed in the sealed mine to this day - 1904

(The novel Sixteen Tons carries the reader down into the dark and dangerous coal mines of the early 1900s, as Italian immigrant Antonio Vacca and his sons encounter cave-ins and fires deep below the earth’s surface. Above ground, miners battle gun thugs and corrupt sheriffs at Virden, Matewan and Ludlow in an epic struggle to form a union and make the mines a safer place to work. Historian Kevin Corley’s depiction of miners’ lives is based on his own interviews with mining families.)

The Supreme Court upholds “Yellow Dog” employment contracts, which forbid membership in labor unions. Yellow Dog contracts remained legal until 1932 - 1915

Some 16,000 textile workers strike in Passaic, N.J. – 1926
The federal minimum wage rate rises to 75 cents an hour - 1950

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