“Never forget, people DIED for the eight-hour workday.” – Dr. Rebecca Gordon, author, Professor, social justice activist
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History:
Wednesday, April 24
On this day in 1999, the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union halted shipping on the West Coast in solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Philadelphia journalist who was on death row because he was an outspoken African-American activist.
In 2013 in Bangladesh, an 8-story building housing garment factories collapsed, killing 1,129 workers and injuring 2,515. A day earlier, cracks had been found in the structure, but factory officials, who had contracts with Benneton and other major U.S. labels, insisted the non-organized workers continue work.
Thursday, April 25
In 1886, the New York Times declared the struggle for an 8-hour workday to be “un- American” and called public demonstrations for the shorter hours “labor disturbances brought about by foreigners.” Other publications declared that an 8-hour workday would bring about “loafing and gambling, rioting, debauchery and drunkenness.”
In 1923, IWW Marine Transport Workers began their West Coast strike.
In 1969 on this day, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy and 100 others were arrested while picketing a Charleston, South Carolina hospital in a demand for union recognition.
Friday, April 26
In 1944, on the orders of President Roosevelt, the U.S. Army seized the Chicago headquarters of the Montgomery Ward & Company after management defied the National Labor Relations Board decision favoring the union workers.
Just ten years ago on this day, as the U.S. car industry tanked, the UAW agreed to concessions with Chrysler Corporation in return for a 55 percent stake in the company. After saving the company from ruin, the union sold the shares to fund a trust that took over union retiree health care costs.
Saturday, April 27
1825 on this day saw the first U.S. strike for a 10-hour work day by Boston carpenters. 16-hour days were the norm at the time.
On April 27th in 1937, the Social Security system made its first benefit payment.
In 1978, a cooling tower for a power plant under construction in West Virginia collapsed, killing 51 Workers. OSHA cited contractors for 20 violations, including failures to field test concrete. The cases were settled for $85,000 total - about $1,700 per worker killed.
Sunday, April 28
In 1914, a coal mine collapsed at Eccles, West Virginia, killing 181 workers. The coal company had resisted safety measures in order to increase profits.
On this day in 1924, a total of 119 workers died in the Benwood, West Virginia coal mine disaster. Company profits were put before the safety of the workers, once again.
In 1970, the AFL-CIO set April 28th as “Workers Memorial Day” to honor the hundreds of thousands of workers killed and injured on the job every year.
In 1988, the roof of an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 tore off in flight. Stewardess and AFA union member, Clarabelle "C.B." Lansing fell over 24,000 feet to her death.
Monday, April 29
In 1899, 1,000 Western Federation of Miners members, angry over low wages, the firing of union members and the planting of spies in their ranks by mine owners, seized a train, loaded it with 3,000 pounds of dynamite, and blew up the mill at the Bunker Hill mine in Idaho, completely destroying it. President McKinley responded by sending in black soldiers from Texas, with orders to round up the miners and imprison them in specially built “bullpens”. From 1899 to 1901, the U.S. Army occupied the Coeur d’Alene mining region in order to protect mine owner profits and capitalist interests. The Western Federation of Miners was founded and based in Butte, Montana.
Tuesday, April 30
On this day in 1866, 50,000 workers in Chicago went on strike in support of the 8-hour work day. 30,000 more joined in the next day. The strike brought Chicago’s manufacturing to a standstill. On May 3rd, Chicago cops murdered 4 union members to protect capitalist interest. A mass demonstration was called for on the 4th, in Haymarket Square, where a cop will be killed by an unknown assailant. Ultimately, 8 activists, some of whom were not even in attendance, were tried for murder and sentenced to death. This event, known as the Haymarket Massacre, would be the inspiration for International Workers Day, now known as May Day, celebrated on May 1st in every country in the world except the U.S.
In 1965, the Transport Workers Union won $9.5 million in pensions, which the Fifth Avenue Coach Company robbed from workers, for former employees, after long court battle.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis. For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.