This Week in Labor History 030

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge

“The great corporation which employed you lied to you, and lied to the whole country. From top to bottom, it was nothing but one gigantic lie.”
Quotation by Upton Sinclair, from his book The Jungle

I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History

Wednesday, Sept 11

75,000 coal miners in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia ended a 10-week strike after winning an 8-hour day, semi-monthly pay, and the abolition of overpriced
company owned stores, where they had been forced to shop. That was in 1897.

Over 3,000 people died on this day in 2001 when suicide hijackers from Saudi Arabia, financed by Osama bin Laden, crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Among the dead were 634 union members, including 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who were attempting to save workers trapped on higher floors of the buildings.

Thursday, Sept 12

In Butte Montana in 1907, the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company reduced its work force by half, citing a slump in copper prices. Almost all of the mines on the Hill were shut down by December.

National Guardsmen fired on unarmed strikers at the Woonsocket, Rhode Island rayon plant, murdering one and injuring three others, on this day in 1934. Word spread, and 6,000 more workers arrived at the scene. The city was then put under military rule. Deliberately red baiting the public, the Governor falsely declared that “there is a Communist uprising and not a textile strike” in the state.

Friday, Sept 13

In Butte, Montana in 1918, a crackdown by local authorities and federal troops prevented a call for a general strike to protest the conviction of I.W.W. union leaders. Omar Bradley lead federal troops to shut down The Daily Bulletin newspaper. I.W.W. union members in Butte and Anaconda were arrested without cause, including William F. Dunne, editor of The Daily Bulletin.

3 more unarmed striking workers were murdered in Woonsocket (Rhode Island) on this day in 1934 while fighting for a minimum wage for textile workers. Over the course of September, more than 420,000 workers joined the strike.

Saturday, Sept 14

Legendary labor leader and IWW co-founder Eugene Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking out publicly against the United States’ entry into WWI on this day in 1918. He ran for President as a Socialist in 1920 from his prison cell and won over one million votes.

In 1933, an unarmed striker was shot by a bog owner (and town-elected official) during a peaceful walkout of 1,500 cranberry pickers, members of the newly formed Cape Cod Cranberry Pickers Union Local 1. State police were called to protect profits and low wages, and more strikers were shot, with 64 were arrested. The strike was lost.

Sunday, Sept 15

Over 5,000 female cotton workers, in and around Pittsburgh, went on strike for a 10-hour day in 1845. The male trade unionists become the first male auxiliary when they gathered to protect the women from police attacks. The strike ultimately failed.

In 1919, Calvin Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts, called out the Massachusetts National Guard to break a strike of Boston police officers who were striking for union recognition, vacation time and better pay. Invoking the "American Plan" (an agreement between the government and business to suppress all unions) Coolidge fired all striking police. His action won him acclaim and swept him onto the Republican ticket as the vice-presidential nominee.

Monday, Sept 16

43,000 oil workers went on strike in 20 states on this day in 1945, immediately after World War II ended. The end of the war saw a wave of strikes across the country, as workers who had patriotically sacrificed all resistance to workplace injustices during the war no longer had any excuses not to fight for decent pay and benefits. Soon after the oil workers walked off the job, 200,000 coal miners, 4,000 northwest lumber workers, 70,000 midwest truck drivers, and 40,000 machinists in San Francisco and Oakland joined them. East coast longshoremen and New England textile workers also struck.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee signed a contract with the Mount Olive Pickle Company and growers, ending a 5-year boycott on this day in 2004. The agreement marked the first time an American labor union represented guest workers.

Tuesday, Sept 17

The Great Strike of 1934 in Butte, Montana ended after 4 months in a major union victory. The Anaconda Company granted the striking union miners a wage increase, a 40-hour work week and full union recognition.

United Mine Workers of America members and a minister occupied the Pittston Coal Company's plant in Carbon, Virginia, beginning a year-long strike, on this day in 1989. Among other issues, they called out management’s demands for drastic limitations in health and pension benefits for retired and disabled miners and their dependents and beneficiaries.

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

For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.