"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital and deserves much the higher consideration." -Abraham Lincoln
I’m Kevin Cook, and this week in labor history:
Wednesday, April 3
In 1913, the Socialist mayor of Haledon, New Jersey invited the Patterson silk mill strikers to assemble in front of his house. 20,000 showed up to hear speakers from the IWW, as well as Upton Sinclair, John Reed and others, who urged them to remain strong in their fight. The Patterson strike lasted from Feb. 1 - July 28. Workers were fighting for the 8-hour workday and less deadly working conditions. Over 1800 workers were arrested during the strike, including IWW leaders Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. 5 strikers were murdered.
In 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr returned to Memphis to stand with striking AFSCME sanitation workers. 51 years ago on this day, he delivered his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in a church packed with union members. King fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. He was assassinated the following day.
Thursday, April 4
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on this day in 1968 in Memphis, where he had been supporting a sanitation workers’ strike. In the wake of this tragedy, riots broke out in many cities, including Washington, D.C.
In 1989, 1,700 United Mine Workers members in Virginia and West Virginia beat back concessions demanded by Pittston Coal Co.
Friday, April 5
In 1911, 80,000 people marched down 5th Avenue in a funeral procession for the Triangle Shirtwaist victims in New York. The 146 workers, mostly young women, were burned alive or jumped to their death when a fire broke out in their workplace. The bosses locked all doors during work hours to protect profits. The two owners cashed their fire insurance check and retired rich men.
In 2010, 29 coal miners died in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion - the worst US mining disaster in 40 years. A "catastrophe waiting to happen," the mine was cited for more than 1,300 safety violations from 2005 through 2010, with 50 citations in the 30 days leading up to the deadly West Virginia coal mine disaster.
Saturday, April 6
In 1712, the first slave revolt in the U.S. took place at a slave market in New York City’s Wall Street area. 21 blacks were executed. The city responded by strengthening its slave codes.
In 1917, the U.S. entered WWI and declared war on Germany. Woodrow Wilson, elected on an anti-war platform, did an about face. Thousands of union members were jailed, harassed, lynched, forced to get on their knees and kiss the American flag, castrated or killed, by self- described "patriots," for maintaining the original anti-war position which got Wilson elected President. In the name of "freedom," the government and vigilantes across the nation destroyed printing presses, labor halls and union offices, and burned books and papers to stop the anti-war peace movement.
Sunday, April 7
This day in 1937 saw a 6-day sit-down strike of workers at the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The strike would end in violence, as dairy workers and loyal Hershey employees stormed the factory to force out strikers. Eventually, Hershey Corporation workers would sign an agreement with the AFL through the Bakery and Confectionary International Union, becoming one of the first American candy companies to unionize.
15,000 union janitors went on strike in Los Angeles on this day in the year 2000.
Monday, April 8
In 1918, President Wilson established the War Labor Board, which was composed of representatives from business and labor, to arbitrate disputes between workers and employers during World War I.
In 1935, the Works Progress Administration was approved by Congress. President Franklin Roosevelt proposed the WPA during the Great Depression of the 1930’s when almost 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. It created low-paying federal jobs, providing immediate relief and putting 8.5 million jobless to work on projects ranging from construction of bridges, highways and public buildings to arts programs like the Federal Writers' Project.
Tuesday, April 9
In 1930, the IWW organized the 1,700-member crew of the Leviathan, then the world’s largest vessel.
In 1946 in Butte, Montana, a short and bitter strike by Butte Miners Union No 1 began. It turned ugly on the 14th of April when the company sent salaried employees across picket lines to keep mines operating during strike. Mobs roamed Butte neighborhoods destroying homes and property of company "scabs." In solidarity, the Carpenter's Union refused to allow its members to repair any of the damage.
In 1970, public school teachers went on strike in Minneapolis, violating court orders not to walk out. The members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers sought the right to collectively bargain. Local Union President and English teacher Norm Moen said, “I remember the example of Thoreau...We are taking a courageous action against an oppressive and repressive law.” With support from AFL-CIO, the teachers reached a reasonable settlement, including amnesty for the strikers. A year later, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Public Employment Labor Relations Act, strengthening collective bargaining rights for public employees.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook!!!!