I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History:
Wednesday, Feb 27:
In 1875, labor leader Eugene V. Debs became a charter member and secretary of the Vigo Lodge, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. 5 years later, he was leading the Union and in 1893 helped found the nation’s first industrial union, the American Railway Union. He was known as “brilliant, sincere, compassionate and scrupulously honest”. He also helped launch the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). A man of firm beliefs and dedication, he ran for President of the United States 5 times under the banner of the Socialist Party.
In 1943, a mine disaster killed 75 people at Red Lodge, Montana. Company profits came before worker safety and the miners died by fire.
Thursday, Feb 28:
In 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a Utah state law limiting mine and smelter workers to an 8-hour workday was in fact constitutional.
In 1986, in response to the layoff of 450 Union members at a 3M factory in New Jersey, every worker at a 3M factory in South Africa walked off the job.
Friday, March 1:
In 1900, the Granite Cutters National Union began what was to be a successful nationwide strike for the 8-hour day. They also won union recognition, wage increases, a grievance procedure, and a minimum wage scale.
In 1907, the IWW struck Portland, Oregon sawmills. 2,000 sawmill workers went on strike, tying up the lumber industry of that city. The strike lasted 3 weeks and was broken by scabs and extreme violence against peaceful strikers.
Saturday, March 2:
In 1807, the importing of slaves was prohibited by the U.S. Congress. The first American slave ship, named Desire, sailed from Massachusetts in 1637. Nearly 15 million Africans were transported as slaves to the Americas. Africa lost 50 million human lives to slavery and related deaths. The Congressional prohibition went unenforced due to the huge loss of profits that capitalists would suffer. Another 250,000 slaves were imported “illegally” before the start of the Civil War.
In 1937, CIO president John L. Lewis and U.S. Steel President Myron Taylor signed a landmark contract in which the bitterly anti-union company officially recognized the CIO as sole negotiator for the company's Unionized workers. This included the adoption of overtime pay, the 40-hour work week, and a big pay hike, $5 a day.
Sunday, March 3:
In 1905, IWW Free-Speech Fights took place in Colorado City. The IWW contributed considerably to civil liberties by having hundreds of members violate “free speech” bans across the west. By stepping on a soapbox and reading the U.S. Constitution aloud in public they would be arrested one after another and pack the jails. They ended up costing the cities so much money that they'd be released and the “Free Speech” bans would be lifted for all.
In 1906, the local Lumber Workers' Union in Humboldt County, California founded the Union Labor Hospital Association to establish a hospital for Union workers in the county. In the absence of any “free market” healthcare solution, the hospital became an important community facility that was financed and run by the local Labor Movement.
Monday, March 4:
In 1801, in his inaugural address, President Thomas Jefferson declared his support for Labor and Unions: “Take not from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
In 1910, the Industrial Workers of the World won the Free Speech Fights in Spokane, Washington. The IWW’s free speech campaign began in late 1908 and spread across the west.
In 1937, the UAW won their sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan. The strike at the Fisher Body Plant Number One lasted 40 days and was the longest sit-down strike in history. 5,000 armed workers circled the plant to protect the workers inside. Following police attacks with tear-gas, workers fought back with fire hoses. 13 workers were injured by police gunfire. By the time the National Guard arrived, sympathy strikes had spread to GM plants across the country.
Tuesday, March 5:
In 1917, Industrial Workers of the World went on trial in Everett, Washington. The labor organizers had been gunned down by a government sanctioned mob. Like most cases of labor strife, the government, big business, police, military and the media were actively aligned against the unionists: the criminals and perpetrators went free while the victims were vilified and tried.
In 1992, Caterpillar equipment company declared strike impasse.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.