“It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.”
Quotation by President Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive Republican, Progressive Party founder
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History
Wednesday, Sept 25
The first Congress of the United States adopted the amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights on this day in 1789. This included the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble, the legal basis for most workplace rights.
American photographer Lewis Hine was born on this day in 1874 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Lewis, who himself died in poverty in 1940, did as much as any social critic in the early part of the 20th century to expose the abuse of child laborers as young as 3 and 4 years old.
Thursday, Sept 26
The Old 97, a Southern Railway train officially known as the Fast Mail, derailed near Danville, Virginia on this day in 1903. The incident killed engineer Joseph Broady and 10 other railroad and postal workers. Broady had been ordered to speed up the train to make up for lost time.
The railroad clerk's union went on strike on this day in 1978, halting 2/3 of rail service.
Friday, Sept 27
Textile workers struck in Fall River, Massachusetts on this day in 1875, demanding bread for their starving children. Approximately one in six children between the ages of 10 and 15 were working during the second half of the 19th century, primarily in textile mills, print shops, coal mines and factories.
The U.S. Senate called for the censure of Senator Joe McCarthy on this day in 1954. McCarthy took the lead in destroying the lives of many good Americans, including actors, musicians and union members, during his Red Scare, one of the darkest chapters in American history. His name will forever be associated with self-serving, right-wing red baiting. He died of alcoholism at the age of 48.
Saturday, Sept 28
Federal agents arrested 165 members of the IWW for their public resistance to World War I on this day in 1917. Over 300 IWW union leaders were arrested in September and their offices raided throughout the country. They were fighting for American workers by continuing to engage in labor strikes and slowdowns, despite corporate war propaganda. It was the first move in an illegal but successful U.S. government campaign to cripple the American union movement on behalf of the powerful capitalists.
In Chile in 1971, following years of corporate plunder, the newly elected Socialist government expropriated the Anaconda copper mine. The western capitalists would later fund a coup and overthrow the democratically elected president, installing a fascist dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Chile transformed into a “Free Market” economy run by U.S. economist Milton Friedman. The corporations were then free to profit, plunder and murder with the full backing of the U.S. Government.
Sunday, Sept 29
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) attained the first victory in a strike by steel workers in the Pressed Steel Car Company strike at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania on this day in 1909.
The Anaconda Smelter closed on this day in 1980 in Anaconda, Montana. Between 1,000 and 1,200 smelter workers woke up without jobs on "Black Monday" after Atlantic Richfield Co. announced the immediate suspension of operations at the smelter.
Monday, Sept 30
The "Industrial Worker" issued its first call for IWW members to join the Missoula Free Speech fight on this day in 1909. From 1907-1917, the IWW carried out more than 30 Free Speech fights across the US. As police arrested one wobbly for public speaking (reading aloud the US Constitution), another would take his or her place, resulting in thousands of arrests, as well as mass beatings and torture by vigilantes and police. Their peaceful civil disobedience succeeded in clogging the jails and courts to the point that cities were forced to back down. While jailed, the Wobblies would sing nonstop and became known as “the Singing Union”. Using these peaceful tactics, the IWW won the right of free speech for all of Montana.
The Lawrence, Massachusetts “Bread and Roses” textile strike was in full swing on this day in 1912. 12,000 more textile workers walked out of mills to protest the arrests of strike leaders. Police clubbed striking women and arrested many; the bosses fired 1,500. IWW strike leaders Arturo Giovannitti and Joe Ettor were eventually acquitted.
Tuesday, Oct 1
21 people were killed when the Los Angeles Times building was dynamited during a labor strike on this day in 1910. Labor leaders, the McNamara brothers were kidnapped and taken to the private home of a Chicago police sergeant, where they were brutally tortured. They were later convicted of the bombing based solely on the testimony of a third individual who was also tortured. The brothers plead guilty as a part of a plea bargain. Employers and the federal government then refused to honor the terms of the agreement and the labor movement in L.A. collapsed.
Joining the 400,000 coal miners already on strike, 500,000 CIO steel workers went on strike for safer working conditions, better pay and earned pensions on this day in 1949.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.