This Week in Labor History 023

Radium Girls

Radium Girls

"Capital blights and withers all it touches. It is a new aristocracy - proud, imperious, dishonest, seeking only profit and the exploitation of workers.” - William Sylvis, member of the
Iron Molders International Union and founder of the National Labor Union

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

Wednesday, July 24

Mother Jones gave her famous “The Wail of the Children” speech during the “March of the Mill Children” on this day in 1903. The march began on July 7 in Philadelphia and ended at Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. They were demanding cutting the work week for child laborers down to 55 hours.

In 1968, the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters formed the Alliance for Labor Action, later to be joined by several smaller unions. The ALA's agenda included support of the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Thursday, July 25

St. Louis Workers staged a General Strike, believed to be the nation’s first, in support of striking railroad workers. The successful 1877 strike was ended after 3,000 federal troops and 5,000 deputized special police murdered 18 strikers to protect low wages, deadly working conditions, long hours, and company profits.

15 “living dead women” testified before the Illinois Industrial Commission on this day in 1937. They were “Radium Girls,” women who would die prematurely after working at clock and watch factories, where they were told to wet small paintbrushes in their mouths and dip them in radium to paint dials. A Geiger counter passed over graves in a cemetery near Ottawa, Illinois still registers the presence of radium.

Friday, July 26

30 workers were murdered by federal troops on this day in 1877 at the “Battle of the Viaduct” in Chicago, during the Great Upheaval (AKA Great Strike). U.S. troops and police attacked 5,000 unarmed workers at Halsted and 16th Street in Chicago. A judge later found the police guilty of preventing the workers from exercising their Constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly.

The Battle of Mucklow, West Virginia, took place on this day in 1912 during a coal miners’ strike. An estimated 100,000 shots were fired; 12 striking miners were murdered in order to keep wages low and protect the mine owner's profits.

Saturday, July 27

Legendary labor leader William Sylvis died on this day in 1869. Sylvis founded the Iron Molders' International Union and the National Labor Union, which was the first such organization in U.S. history.

In Canada in 1918, United Mine Workers organizer Ginger Goodwin was shot by a hired private cop outside Cumberland, British Columbia sparking Canada’s first General Strike.

Sunday, July 28

Women shoemakers in Lynn, Massachusetts created the Daughters of St. Crispin, demanding pay equal to that of men. That was in 1869.

In 1913, an IWW-led strike by New Jersey silk workers for an 8-hour day and safer working conditions ended after 6 months, with the workers’ demands unmet. During the course of the strike, 1,800 strikers were arrested, including IWW leaders Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Monday, July 29

Following a 5-year table grape boycott, Delano-area growers filed into the United Farm Workers Union hall in Delano, California to sign their first contracts with the union on this day in 1970.

Both houses of Congress passed President Reagan's tax-cut legislation on this day in 1981.
The largest tax cut in the nation's history, it reduced taxes by $37.6 billion in 1982, and reduced government tax income by $750 billion over the next 5 years. The tax cuts increased the federal deficit, benefited only corporations and the ultra-rich, and started the decline of the middle class. 34 years later, Reagan's wealth redistribution scheme brought our country to its knees and destroyed a once strong middle class, while the top 1% increased their wealth to historic levels.

Tuesday, July 30

Elvis Presley joins the Memphis Federation of Musicians, Local 71 on this day in 1954.

Former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on this day in 1975. Declared legally dead in 1982, his body has never been found.

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

For KBMF, I’m Kevin Cook