This Week in Labor History 016

Memorial Day Massacre 1937

Memorial Day Massacre 1937

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little". -President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Progressive New Deal Democrat

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

Wednesday, May 29

In 1946, the United Mine Workers and the U.S. government signed a pact establishing one of America’s first union medical and pension plans. The UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund permanently changed health care delivery in U.S. coal fields. The Fund was used to build 8 hospitals in Appalachia. It also established many clinics and recruited doctors to practice in rural coal field areas.

The United Farm Workers of America reached agreement with Bruce Church Incorporated, ending a 17-year-long boycott on this day in 1996. The pact raised wages, provided company- paid health benefits to workers and their families, created a seniority system to deal with seasonal layoffs and recalls, and established a pesticide monitoring system.

Thursday, May 30

On this day in 1741, 13 black men were burned alive at the stake, and 17 black men, 2 white men, and 2 white women were hanged for their roles in planning a slave revolt in New York City.

In what would become known as the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937, police (protecting company profits) opened fire on unarmed striking steelworkers, their families, and supporters who were marching to the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago to set up a picket line. The Police murdered 10 people and pursued those fleeing the attack, wounding over 160. No one was ever prosecuted.

Friday, May 31

In 1910, a car in which feminist and political activist Emma Goldman was riding was struck by a freight train in Spokane, Washington. Emma was thrown from the car and badly bruised. The plucky anarchist continued her speaking engagements in Butte, Montana, Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota.

The infamous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, in which the 2 pro-labor immigrant workers were railroaded for a crime they did not commit, began in Dedham, Massachusetts on this day in 1921. Judge Webster Thayer’s anti-worker and anti-immigrant opening remarks set the tone for the trial.

Saturday, June 1

The Ladies Federal Labor Union Number 2703, based in Illinois, was granted a charter from the AFL on this day in 1888. They championed suffrage, health, housing and child labor reform.

U.S. troops arrived in Colorado to reclaim coal mines from striking miners on this day in 1914, after the Colorado National Guard (who were sent to protect profits) massacred 20 unarmed strikers. Two women and eleven children were killed by suffocation and/or fires set by militiamen.

Farm workers under the banner of the new United Farm Workers Organizing Committee went on strike at Texas’s La Casita Farms on this day in 1966. Their demand was a minimum hourly wage of $1.25

American icon, deaf-blind, author, political activist, and proud IWW member Helen Keller died on this day in 1968. She campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, social justice and Democratic Socialism.

Sunday, June 2

Twenty-six journeymen printers in Philadelphia staged the trade’s first strike in America over wages on this day in 1786. They had recently seen a cut in their $6 weekly pay.

The IWW’s Mesabi Iron Range strike began in Minnesota on this day in 1916. The strike was violently suppressed by police and vigilantes, with numerous strikers being beaten and jailed. The struggle was a precursor to the infamous labor deportations in Bisbee, Arizona in July, 1917, in which 1,300 Wobblies, their supporters, and even innocent bystanders, were rounded up, forced into cattle cars, and dumped in the desert after 16 hours without food or water.

Monday, June 3

The International Ladies Garment Workers union was founded on this day in 1900.

In 1918, a federal child labor law that had been enacted in 1916 was declared unconstitutional. A new version was enacted on February 24, 1919 but was also later declared unconstitutional. Capitalists found child labor to be highly profitable and, in turn, it was not until the 1930s that child labor provisions were enacted.

Tuesday, June 4

Massachusetts became the first state to establish a minimum wage on this day in 1912.

The House of Representatives approved the Taft-Hartley Act. The legislation allowed the president of the United States to intervene in labor disputes. President Truman vetoed the law but was overridden by Congress.

This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.

For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.