This Week in Labor History 026

1983: Lech Walesa is cheered by his fellow workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk

1983: Lech Walesa is cheered by his fellow workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk

“The worst Fascists are they who disown the word ‘Fascism’ and preach enslavement to Capitalism.”

Quotation by Sinclair Lewis, from the book It Can't Happen Here (1935) I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History
Wednesday, Aug 14

The most successful anti-poverty program in U.S. history was created on this day in 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, providing for the first time ever, guaranteed income for retirees and a system of unemployment benefits.

In Poland in 1980, members of the upstart “Polish Union Solidarity” seized the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. 16 days later, the government officially recognized the union. Many consider this event the beginning of the end for the Iron Curtain as union solidarity would go on to crush Communism in Poland.

Thursday, Aug 15

On this day in 1971, President Richard M. Nixon announced a 90-day freeze on wages, prices and rents in an attempt to combat inflation that was caused by conservative economic policies.

Gerry Horgan, chief steward of CWA Local 1103 and NYNEX striker in Valhalla, New York, was murdered when he was purposely run over while on the picket line on this day in 1989. The car was driven by the daughter of a plant manager, and Horgan died the following day. What was to become a 4-month strike over the lack of sufficient healthcare benefits was in its second week.

Friday, Aug 16

Congress passed the National Apprenticeship Act, establishing the National Registered Apprenticeship system on this day in 1937. The Act established a national advisory committee to research and draft regulations to establish minimum standards for apprenticeship programs. The Act was later amended to allow the Department of Labor to issue regulations protecting the health, safety, and general welfare of apprentices, and to encourage the use of contracts in hiring and employing them.

Juan de la Cruz, a 60-year-old United Farm Workers member, was shot and murdered by a strike breaker during the UFW's second grape boycott on this day in 1973. 2 days earlier, UFW organizer and strike captain Nagi Daifullah had been beaten to death. The UFW was fighting for better wages and less deadly working conditions.

Saturday, Aug 17

Women strikers broke through police lines and demolished a New York garment factory that tried to open in defiance of the strike on this day in 1910. Garment workers were toiling as much as 15 hours per day for as little as 50 cents. They tossed sewing machines out the windows and smashed furniture. The industry-wide strike had begun in June and quickly spread, with 60,000 striking up and down the east coast. In September, the strike lead to an agreement that finally improved working conditions and wages.

95 Wobblies were sent to prison for 20 years for publicly speaking for peace and against the U.S. entering World War One on this day in 1918.

Sunday, Aug 18

Monday, Aug 19

The first edition of IWW Little Red Song Book was published on this day in 1909. Using nonviolent civil disobedience and the songs from the book, the IWW sang their way out of overflowing jails and won free speech for all of Montana and across the west. Like your free speech? Thank a Wobblie.

Butte, Montana saw its second longest miner’s strike begin on this day in 1959. It lasted 181 days.

Tuesday, Aug 20

Sentences were handed down on this date in 1886 against The Haymarket Martyrs, who were labor activists and advocates for the 8-hour work day. All were found guilty despite their obvious innocence. None were even present at the scene of the bombing at Haymarket Square during a rally for the 8-hour day. 7 of the 8 defendants (George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab and August Spies) were condemned to death. Oscar Neebe was sent to prison for 15 years. The hangings occurred on November 11, 1887.

Radio station WEVD, named for Eugene V. Debs, went on the air in New York City on this day in 1927. The station was operated by The Forward Association as a memorial to the legendary American Labor Leader and American Socialist.

This day in 1932 saw the founding of the American Federation of Government Employees, following a decision by the National Federation of Federal Employees to leave the AFL.

In Butte, Montana in 1914, an office for the Parrot Mine was dynamited. In March 1912, Amalgamated Copper fired 500 miners, accusing them of being Socialists. In December, they imposed a blacklist to exclude workers with affiliations to leftist unions and labor organizations. Pinkerton and Thiel detective agencies infiltrated the union, marked agitators and provoked violence to weaken the union in order to protect high company profits, low wages and deadly working conditions.

This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.

For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.