“Look for the enemies of Medicare, of higher minimum wages, of Social Security, of federal aid for education, and there you will find the enemy, the coalition of Dixiecrats and reactionary Republicans that seek to dominate the Congress.” - A. Philip Randolph, legendary Labor and Civil Rights leader
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History
Wednesday, May 15
In 1906, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samuel Gompers and other union leaders for supporting a boycott at the Buck Stove and Range Company in St. Louis. Workers were striking for a 9-hour day. A lower court had sentenced the unionists to prison for refusing to obey an anti-boycott injunction.
In 1935 on this day, Utah Phillips, American labor organizer, folk singer, and storyteller was born. He described the struggles of labor unions, the power of direct action, and he was a proud member of the IWW.
The National Labor Relations Act passed on this day in 1935, recognizing workers rights to organize and bargain collectively.
T-Bone Slim, IWW songwriter, died on this day in 1942. T-Bone wrote such Wobbly classics as “The Popular Wobbly,” and “The Lumberjack’s Prayer”. He once said, “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”
Thursday, May 16
In 1979, Black labor leader and peace activist A. Philip Randolph died. He was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and first black man on the AFL- CIO executive board. He was also a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.
On this day in 2007, baristas at the Starbucks in East Grand Rapids announced their membership in the IWW Starbucks Workers Union. Starbucks, notorious for poor treatment of workers, followed suit with numerous anti-labor violations and was forced by the National Labor Relations Board to settle Grand Rapids union worker complaints in October.
Friday, May 17
Tom Mooney‘s scheduled date of execution was stayed on this day in 1917 while his case was appealed. Mooney ultimately spent 22 years in prison for the San Francisco Preparedness Day Parade bombing in 1916, a crime he did not commit. Mooney was a member of the IWW and was railroaded because of his union affiliation.
In 1946, the government seized the nation's railroads to head off a nation-wide strike. Workers struck anyway on the 23rd of May and only the President's threat to draft the strikers and call up the army to run the railroads forced them back to work.
Saturday, May 18
Big Bill Haywood, founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World died on this day in 1928. Born in Utah, Haywood was frequently the target of prosecutors and the anti-union capitalist interest. He was one of 101 IWW members convicted for their public opposition to the U.S. entering World War One.
In 1979, an Oklahoma jury found for the estate of atomic worker, union activist, and OCAW member Karen Silkwood, and ordered Kerr-McGee Nuclear Company to pay $505,000 in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages for negligence, leading to Silkwood’s plutonium contamination. Silkwood was killed and all of her documentation was stolen when her car was run off the road after announcing at a union meeting that she was going public with evidence of company wrong doing.
Sunday, May 19
On this day in 1902, 216 UMW miners died from an explosion and its aftermath at the Fraterville Mine in Anderson County, Tennessee. All but 3 of Fraterville’s adult males were killed.
There was a shootout in Matewan, West Virginia on this day in 1920, between striking union miners, with the support of the Labor friendly Police Chief Sid Hatfield, and coal company agents. 10 were killed. The episode became known as the “Matewan Battle”, and is depicted in John Sayles’ film Matewan. Leading up to the battle, numerous miners had been assassinated by vigilantes, goons and detectives.
A total of 31 Longshoremen were killed on this day in 1950, and 350 others were injured when 4 barges carrying 467 tons of ammunition blow up at South Amboy, New Jersey. They were loading mines that had been deemed unsafe by the Army and were being shipped to the Asian market for sale.
Monday, May 20
In 1639, the first American public school was established in Dorchester, Massachusetts, 148 years before the U.S. Constitution was penned. Free Public education runs deep in US history. It's our greatest legacy, our birthright and our future.
In 1964, the Industrial Workers of the World won a Free-Speech Fight at Roosevelt University, Chicago. Founded in 1905, the IWW has, for over 110 years, defended and fought for rights guaranteed in the U.S. Bill of Rights and in support of Democracy and union rights.
Tuesday, May 21
This day in 1934 saw the Minneapolis General Strike by the Teamsters Union, which lead to a pitched battle between striking Teamsters and business-paid goons.
In 1946, the U.S. government seized control of the nation’s coal mines in order to maintain production during a nationwide coal strike. Despite the government’s actions, union miners continued to strike, forcing the government to concede to many of their demands, concessions that even the mine owners refused to grant.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.