“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital and deserves much the higher consideration.” -Abraham Lincoln, Progressive Republican
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History:
Wednesday, July 3
On this day in 1835, children employed in the silk mills in Paterson, New Jersey went on strike for an 11-hour day and a 6-day week. A compromise settlement resulted in a 69-hour work week for child laborers.
In Butte, Montana in 1914, Mayor Lewis Duncan (a Socialist) was attacked and stabbed in his office. Duncan shot his attacker in self-defense. Elected twice as a Socialist Mayor, Duncan's socialist policies ended corruption, increased public services, improved the city streets and sanitation, lowered infant mortality rates and brought Butte out of bankruptcy.
Thursday, July 4
The AFL dedicated its new Washington, D.C., headquarters building at 9th St. and Massachusetts Ave on this day in 1916. The building, still standing, later became the headquarters for the Plumbers and Pipefitters.
In Madison, Wisconsin in 1951, The Capital Times reporter John Patrick Hunter asked people on the street to sign a "petition", (actually the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, 6 amendments from the Bill of Rights and the 15th amendment of the U.S. Constitution). Only 1 in 112 people would sign. 20 accused Hunter of being a “Communist”. Many feared McCarthy could use it against them. The rest found it too subversive. More proof that ignorance and McCarthyism threaten our Democracy.
Friday, July 5
The Pullman Strike took place on this day in 1851. The Federal Government interfered with a peaceful labor strike, led by Eugene Debs, against the Pullman Palace Car Company, which had drastically reduced wages. Federal troops killed 34 American Railway Union members in the Chicago area. Debs and several others were imprisoned.
The Battle of Rincon Hill, San Francisco, a Longshoremen’s Strike, took place on this day in 1934. Strikers fought 1,000 police, scabs and national guardsmen. 2 strikers were murdered, and 109 injured, 30 from bullet wounds. The incident led to a General Strike. Chemical companies capitalized on the unrest by testing new products. Federal Laboratories’ Joseph Roush proudly told his company, “I might mention that during one of the riots, I shot a long-range projectile into a group, a shell hitting one man and causing a fracture of the skull, from which he has since died. As he was a Communist, I have had no feeling in the matter, and I am sorry that I did not get more.”
Saturday, July 6
Transit workers in New York begin a 3-week strike against the then-privately owned IRT subway on this day in 1926. Most transit workers worked 7 days a week, up to 11.5 hours a day.
Sunday, July 7
2 barges with Pinkertons hired by the Carnegie Steel, landed in Homestead, Pennsylvania on this day in 1892. They were seeking to occupy Carnegie Steel Works and put down a strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. They opened fire and 11 unarmed union members were murdered in cold blood. Court injunctions eventually crushed the union, protecting the steel industry for decades from organized labor.
During the Homestead Strike in 1892, Henry Bauer was arrested and sent to prison for 5 years for distributing union-supporting leaflets. At the time “Free Market” capitalist profiteers owned and controlled all "Free Speech."
In Butte Montana, the 1894 railroad strike of the BA&P and Pullman workers closed the Anaconda, Syndicate, and Parrot mines.
Mother Jones began "The March of the Mill Children” on this day in 1903. Accompanied by children, she walked from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt's home on Long Island to protest the plight of child laborers. One of her demands: reduce the children’s work week to 55 hours.
Monday, July 8
The first anthracite coal strike in the nation took place in 1842. Over 2,000 miners took part.
In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World founding convention concluded on this day in Chicago. Charles O. Sherman, a former AFL organizer, was elected president. The IWW, advocates of “One Big Union”, organized all workers regardless of race or gender. Notable IWW members include Big Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, Joe Hill, Frank Little, Dorothy Day, Helen Keller, Utah Phillips, and Noam Chomsky.
Tuesday, July 9
In 1917, federal troops raided the IWW Hall in Yakima, Washington arresting 24 IWW union members for their anti-war/peace advocacy. The IWW opposed the U.S. entering WWI, considering it a capitalist war that wasted the lives of workers while allowing big business to profit.
The first Transport Workers Union (TWU) strike took place on this day in 1935. They were protesting dismissals of 6 car cleaners at the IRT Jerome Avenue barn who refused a work speed-up without an increase in pay. The strike was won, and all were reinstated.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.