"We should measure the success of our economy by the breadth of our middle class and the scope of opportunity offered to the poorest child to climb into that middle class."
Quotation by John Sweeney, AFL-CIO President 1995-2009
I’m Kevin Cook, and This Week in Labor History
Wednesday, July 17
This day in 1913 marked the beginning of Seattle’s Potlatch Riots, in which soldiers and sailors attacked members of the IWW. Alden Blethen, the anti-free-speech publisher of the Seattle Times, claimed “radical elements” had been fanning the flames of the workers and must be stopped. He was highly critical of liberal Mayor Cotterill for allowing IWW Union organizers to speak in public. Blethen’s red-baiting incited violence; soldiers and sailors ransacked the IWW union headquarters. The attacks were part of an attempt to suppress free speech and labor organizing, and were a harbinger of the nationwide red-scare leading up to and during
World War I.
In July of 1917, the Justice Department instructed its attorneys and special agents to keep tabs on IWW union members. Their goals were to ascertain their plans, identify sources of income, and find any data that might link them to pro-German activity. No incriminating evidence was ever found.
Thursday, July 18
Frank Little, a frail, small, one-eyed former miner nursing a recently broken leg, arrived in Butte, Montana on this day in 1917. Looks were deceiving, for Little was a fiery union organizer who would inspire his fellow men and infuse the striking Butte miners with the passion of the IWW. The mine owners would soon have him brutally murdered to protect their profits, keep wages low and maintain deadly working conditions. Copper prices and company profits were extremely high because of the war while miner's wages had not gone up at all since the late 1800s.
Hospital workers won a 113-day union recognition strike in Charleston, South Carolina on this day in 1969.
Friday, July 19
A Women's Rights Convention opened in Seneca Falls, New York on this day in 1848. Delegates adopted a declaration of women's rights and called for women's suffrage.
The Brotherhood of Telegraphers, KOL District Assembly 45, went on strike at the Western Union Telegraph Company on this day in 1883.
Saturday, July 20
Maryland state militia, protecting low wages, deadly working conditions and the profits of the greedy capitalists, fired on unarmed striking railroad workers in Baltimore in 1877. Fifty were murdered.
In 1934, Minneapolis police shot peaceful picketing strikers during the Minneapolis Teamsters strike, without provocation, murdering 2 and wounding 67 more, It would become known as Bloody Friday.
Sunday, July 21
Local militiamen were called out against striking railroad workers in Pittsburgh on this day in 1877. The head of the Pennsylvania Railroad advised giving the strikers "a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread." Instead, the militiamen joined the workers cause. Meanwhile, federal troops were sent to Baltimore, where they shot 35 strikers, murdering 10,
in order to persuade the workers that the interests of capital and labor are identical.
The US Postal Service and their unions agreed on a contract averting mail strike on this day in 1978.
Monday, July 22
In San Francisco in 1886, a brewery workers’ union formed among mostly socialist German employees to resist the prevailing 18-hour workday. On this day, breweries admitted defeat and gave in to union demands for FREE BEER, the closed shop, freedom to live anywhere for brewery workers (who had, until now, lived in the brewery itself), a 10-hour day, 6-day week, and a board of arbitration.
A bomb exploded during a "Preparedness Day" parade in San Francisco on this day in 1916, killing ten and injuring forty. Tom Mooney, a labor organizer, and Warren K. Billings, a shoe worker, were framed and convicted (both later pardoned by Roosevelt in 1939). Anti-labor, business, and government interests sought their conviction.
Tuesday, July 23
Strikers battled Pinkerton thugs during the Carnegie Steel strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania on this day in 1892. The Pinkertons, trying to import and protect scabs, opened fire on unarmed striking steelworkers. 11 strikers and spectators were murdered in order to keep wages low and company profits high.
In 1913, northern Michigan copper miners went on strike for union recognition, higher wages and an 8-hour day. 1,100 strikers were arrested, and Western Federation of Miners President Charles Moyer was shot, beaten and forced out of town.
This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.
For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook.