This Week in Labor History 012

Tobacco stemmers strike, 1937

Tobacco stemmers strike, 1937

"The class which has the power to rob upon a large scale has also the power to control the government and legalize their robbery." -Eugene Debs, Legendary American Labor Leader, IWW co-founder, American Railroad Union founder

I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History

Wednesday, May 1

In 1830, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, school teacher, fearless Labor Leader and IWW co- founder, champion of the working class and the "most dangerous woman in America", was born in County Cork, Ireland. She once said, "If they want to hang me, let them. And on the scaffold, I will shout freedom for the working class!"

The first International Labor Day was established on this day world-wide in 1889, except in the U.S.A. The U.S. decided to create its own Labor Day in September to undercut world worker solidarity and to white wash its violent history of repressing American workers, strikes and worker protest.

In 1906, 1,200 members of the Iron Molders Union in Milwaukee struck for shorter hours and more pay. They lost the strike after 2 years of bitter struggle. One employer, Allis-Chalmers, spent $21,700 to hire the Burr-Herr Detective Agency, resulting in more than 200 assaults on union members, including union leader Peter Cramer, who was killed. The agency offered $10 for each striker they beat up.

Thursday, May 2

In 1886, over 2,500 workers marched in Milwaukee for the 8-hour day. Demonstrators carried the worker’s red flag and the tricolor banners of the Eight Hour League. Governor Jeremiah Rusk supplied the Milwaukee National Guard with increased ammunition and the entire city police force with four companies of infantry and artillery, in order to crush the 8-hour day movement. The James O’Connell song The Red Flag, reads “The worker's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead; And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, Their life-blood dyed its every fold.”

In 1933 in Germany on this day, just months after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, his very first move to ensure his power was to end democratic unions in Nazi Germany. On May 2nd, 1933, police occupied all union headquarters, union officials and union leaders were arrested, many never to be seen again. The funds that belonged to the unions were confiscated and all democratic worker's unions were outlawed. All Fascists throughout history, and even today, have one thing in common...they are all anti-union.

Friday, May 3

In 1886, 4 striking workers were murdered and 200 wounded when police, protecting the capitalist interests, attacked an 8-hour day demonstration on Chicago’s south side at the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant. The Haymarket Massacre would take place the following day.

On this day in 1919, folk singer-songwriter, social justice activist, and union activist Pete Seeger was born. Seeger, a target during America’s shameful McCarthy era, said “One of the things I'm most proud of about my country is the fact that we did lick McCarthyism back in the fifties.” Sadly, McCarthyism is back. In 2014, The Montana GOP, Senator Daines, and several news outlets shamelessly used red baiting and McCarthyism to falsely claim the Democratic candidate was a communist.

In Germany in 1920, Nazis officially changed 'German Worker's Party' to 'National Socialist German Workers Party', co-opting both "socialist" and "worker" into an all-out anti-worker, anti- union, corporate ideology, known as Fascism.

Saturday, May 4

The Haymarket massacre took place on this day in 1886. A day after police murdered 4 striking workers and injured hundreds of others striking for the 8-hour day, protesters gathered at Haymarket Square in Chicago. As the peaceful event drew to a close, a bomb was thrown into the crowd, killing one officer and injuring dozens of workers. Police responded by shooting into the crowd, killing 11 and wounding many. Eight workers were later framed and arrested, even though most were not even present at the Haymarket rally and there was no evidence that linked any of them to the bombing. Four were hanged, one committed suicide in jail, and 3 were eventually pardoned by Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld. The Haymarket affair gave the pretext for a national witch hunt against labor and ended the quick rise of the Knights of Labor, a predecessor to the IWW. The Knights of Labor had been growing and rapidly attracting members. They professed solidarity with all workers, regardless of race or ethnicity, and championed the 8-hour work day.

In 1931, gun-toting vigilantes attacked peaceful striking union miners and union supporters in Harlan County, Kentucky.

Monday, May 5

This day in 1886 saw a strike by Utah and Northern railroad brakemen, shutting down the Anaconda mine and smelter.

On this day in 1886, over 14,000 building trade union workers and laborers, demanding an 8- hour work day, gathered at the Milwaukee Iron Company rolling mill in Bay View, Wisconsin. When the unarmed men approached the mill, they were fired on by 250 National Guardsmen under orders from the governor to shoot to kill. 7 died, including a 13-year-old boy.

In 1937, a lumber strike began in the Pacific Northwest, involving 40,000 workers by the time victory is achieved, after 13 weeks. Led by the CIO and IWA, they won union recognition, a 50 cent-per-hour minimum wage and an 8-hour day.

Tuesday, May 6

On this day in 1890 in Butte Montana, the Butte Laborer's Union went on strike against wage reductions of surface workers. In honor of Butte's first union, they changed their name to the Butte Workingmen's Union.

In 1937, 400 black women working as tobacco stemmers walked off the job in a spontaneous revolt against poor working conditions and a $3 weekly wage at the Vaughan Company in Richmond, Virginia.

Wednesday, May 7

This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis. For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.

In 1867, the Knights of St. Crispin Union was formed in Milwaukee. It grew to 50,000 members before being crushed by organized employers later that year.

2 are killed and 20 are injured on “Bloody Tuesday” as strikebreakers attempted to operate San Francisco streetcars during a strike by union operators on this day in 1907. The strike was declared lost in 1908 after many more deaths in scab-operated streetcar accidents.