“The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.” - Helen Keller, American icon, IWW member, Social Justice Activist
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History-
Wednesday, May 22
Eugene Debs, co-founder of the IWW and ARU, was thrown in prison for his role in the Pullman Railway Strike, also known as “Debs Rebellion,” on this day in 1895.
In 1942, the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ Steel Workers Organizing Committee was disbanded at a Cleveland convention and immediately succeeded by the workers’ new union, the United Steel Workers of America.
Thursday, May 23
On this day in 1903, 100,000 textile workers, including more than 10,000 children, went on strike in the Philadelphia area. Among the issues: 60-hour workweeks, including night hours, for the children.
The Battle of Toledo began on this day in 1934. It was a 5-day battle between 6,000 strikers at the Electric Auto-Lite company and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard who were sent to protect company profits. 2 strikers were murdered and more than 200 were injured.
Labor singer/songwriter, labor organizer and proud IWW member Utah Phillips died on this day in 2008. Rolling Stone called him "one of the most important songwriters to be found in North America." Phillips loved spending time and performing in Butte; he co-wrote the song “Look for Me in Butte.”
Friday, May 24
Earth First and IWW organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were nearly killed by a pipe bomb in Oakland on this day in 1990. Judi and Darryl had been successfully organizing timber workers into the IWW. The bomb was placed under the driver’s seat of their car and set to explode when the car moved. Police arrived within seconds and immediately arrested the bloody victims before taking them to the hospital. Several theories arose about the bomber’s identity, ranging from anti-abortion activists to the FBI themselves. Corporate timber feared "radical" environmentalists would unite with rank and file unionized timber workers. The attempt on Bari's life remains an open case.
In 1995, 2,300 members of the United Rubber Workers, on strike for 10 months against five Bridgestone-Firestone plants, agreed to return to work without a contract. They had been fighting demands for 12-hour shifts and wages tied to productivity.
Saturday, May 25
Philip Murray was born on this day in 1886. He was founder and the first president of the United Steelworkers of America, and head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations from 1940 until his death in 1952.
The 11-month Remington Rand strike began on this day in 1936. The strike spawned the "Mohawk Valley Formula," described by investigators as a corporate plan to discredit union leaders, frighten the public with the threat of violence, employ thugs to beat up strikers, and other tactics. The National Labor Relations Board termed the formula "a battle plan for industrial war.”
Sunday, May 26
In 1894, the Western Federation of Miners members went on strike for the 8-hour day in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The WFM was formed in Butte, Montana, they were labeled “radicals” by the capitalists because they supported such “radical” ideas as the 8-hour day, safe working conditions and fair pay.
In 1937, Ford Motor Company security guards brutally attacked union organizers attempting to distribute literature outside the plant in Dearborn, Michigan. The event became known as the “Battle of the Overpass.” The guards tried to destroy any photos showing the bloody attack, but some survived and inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography.
Monday, May 27
The Golden Gate Bridge opened on this day in 1937. Work began January 5, 1933. Until February 17, 1937, there had been only one fatality, setting a new all-time record in a field where one man killed for every million dollars spent had been the norm. On February 17, 10 men lost their lives when a section of scaffold fell through the safety net.
The U.S. Fishermen and Allied Workers union merged with the ILWU on this day in 1947.
Tuesday, May 28
The Ladies Shoe Binders Society formed in New York on this day in 1835.
In 1946 on this day, 30,000 workers in Rochester, New York participated in a General Strike in support of municipal workers who had been fired for forming a union.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.