“Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.” - A. Philip Randolph, Civil Rights Leader, Labor Leader, Founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History:
Wednesday, April 10
In 1917, as WWI was raging in Europe, 133 American workers, mostly women and young girls, were killed when an explosion in the loading room tore apart the Eddystone Ammunition Works in Eddystone, PA. Of the dead, 55 were never identified.
1930 on this day saw the birth of Dolores Huerta, Labor Organizer, Social Justice Activist and co-founder (with Cesar Chavez) of the United Farm Workers.
Thursday, April 11
In 1934, Frank Norman, Labor Organizer and Social Justice Activist, who organized all citrus workers regardless of their race, was kidnapped from his home in Florida and murdered by the extreme right-wing “Christian” Ku Klux Klan.
Protecting corporate interest, police in Austin, Minnesota, tear-gassed striking Hormel meatpacking workers on this day in 1986. 17 strikers were arrested on felony riot charges. The following day, 6,000 people (nearly one-third of the city’s entire population) demonstrated against Hormel and the police.
Friday, April 12
In 1858, a group of "puddlers", craftsmen who manipulated pig iron to create steel, met in a Pittsburgh bar and formed The Iron City Forge of the Sons of Vulcan. It was the strongest union in the U.S. in the 1870s. They later merged with two other unions to form what was to be the United Steel Workers.
In 1934, the Toledo Auto-Lite strike began with 6,000 workers demanding union recognition and higher pay. The strike is notable for a battle in late May between the strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard who were sent to protect corporate profits. The "Battle of Toledo," left two strikers dead and more than 200 injured. The two-month strike, a win for the union,
is regarded by labor historians as one of the nation’s three most important strikes.
Saturday, April 13
The Great Northern rail strike began in 1893 in Helena, Montana, spreading to St. Paul within a few days. The strike was led by Eugene V. Debs, president of the American Railway Union, and succeeded in shutting down critical rail links, resulting in a settlement. The company gave in
to nearly all of the union’s demands. The successful strike led to thousands of rail workers joining the new union.
On this day in 1930, a 17-year-old Jimmy Hoffa lead his co-workers at a Kroger warehouse in Indiana in a successful job action. By refusing to unload a shipment of perishable strawberries, they forced the company to give in to their demands. Among their issues: the “strawberry boys” had to report to work at 4:30AM, stay on the job for 12 hours, and were paid 32¢ an hour, only if growers arrived with berries to unload. Plus, they were required to spend three-fourths of any earnings buying goods from Kroger.
Sunday, April 14
On this day in 1865, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.. Secretary of State Seward was also attacked with a bowie knife, and was severely wounded by Lewis Paine, a co-conspirator of Booth. Lincoln died the following day.
John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” was published on this day in 1939.
The United Steelworkers and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Unions merged on this day in 2005 to form the largest industrial union in North America.
Monday, April 15
A. Philip Randolph, civil rights leader, labor leader, social justice activist, and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was born in Crescent City, Florida on this day in 1889.
In 1941 Randolph organized the “March on Washington,” which succeeded in pressuring President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 banning discrimination in defense industries. After the war, a similar technique led to President Harry S. Truman’s order, desegregating the army.
In 1915, the IWW’s Agricultural Workers Organization formed in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1916, teacher unionists gathered at the City Club on Plymouth Court in Chicago to form a new national union: the American Federation of Teachers.
This day in 1919 marked the start of the ultimately successful six-day strike across New England by what has been described as the first women-led American union, the Telephone Operators Department of the IBEW.
Tuesday, April 16
Employers locked out 25,000 New York City garment workers in a dispute over hiring practices on this day in 1916. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union called a general strike. After 14 weeks, 60,000 strikers won union recognition and the contractual right to strike.
500 workers in Texas City, Texas died in a series of huge oil refinery and chemical plant explosions and fires on this day in 1947.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.