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City Desk

This Week in Labor History May 17 - 23


“These kids don't have a little brother working in the coal mine, they don't have a little sister coughing her lungs out in the looms of the big mill towns of the Northeast. Why? Because we organized.”  -Utah Phillips, Labor folk singer/songwriter, Union organizer, IWW member

Wednesday, May 17:

Tom Mooney‘s scheduled date of execution was stayed while case was appealed. Mooney ultimately spent 22 years in prison for the San Francisco Preparedness Day Parade bombing in 1916, a crime he did not commit. Mooney was a member of the IWW and was ultimately railroaded because of his Union affiliation. -1917

The government seizes the nation's railroads to head off a nation-wide strike. Workers strike anyway on the 23rd and only the President's threat to draft the strikers and call up the army to run the railroads forces them back to work. -1946

Thursday, May 18:

Big Bill Haywood, founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), dies. Born in Utah Haywood was frequently the target of prosecutors and the anti-Union Capital interest. He was one of 101 IWW members convicted for their public opposition to the U.S. entering WWI. -1928

Oklahoma jury finds for the estate of atomic worker, Union activist, and OCAW member Karen Silkwood, orders Kerr-McGee Nuclear Co. to pay $505,000 in actual damages, $10 million in punitive damages for negligence leading to Silkwood’s plutonium contamination. Silkwood was killed and all of her documentation was stolen when her car was run off the road after announcing at a Union meeting that she was going public with evidence of company wrong doing. -1979

Friday, May 19:

216 (UMW) miners die from an explosion and its aftermath at the Fraterville Mine in Anderson County, Tenn. All but 3 of Fraterville’s adult males were killed. -1902

Shootout in Matewan, W. Va., between striking Union miners (with the support of the Labor friendly Police Chief Sid Hatfield) and coal company agents. 10 were killed. The episode became known as the “Matewan Battle”, and is depicted in John Sayles’ film Matewan. Leading up to the battle numerous miners had been assassinated by vigilantes, goons and detectives. -1920

A total of 31 Longshoremen are killed, 350 others are injured when 4 barges carrying 467 tons of ammunition blow up at South Amboy, N.J. They were loading mines that had been deemed unsafe by the Army and were being shipped to the Asian market for sale. -1950

Saturday, May 20:

The first American public school was established in Dorchester, Ma. 148 years before the U.S. Constitution was penned. (Free Public education runs deep in our history, it's our greatest legacy, and our future.) -1639

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) wins Free-Speech Fight, Roosevelt University, Chicago. Founded in 1905 the IWW has, for over 110 years, defended and fought for our rights guaranteed in the U.S. Bill of Rights and in support of Democracy and Union rights. -196

Sunday, May 21:

The Minneapolis General Strike by Teamsters Union leads to a pitched battle between striking Teamsters and business paid goons. -1934

The U.S. government seized control of the nation’s coal mines in order to maintain production during a nationwide coal strike. Despite the government’s actions, Union miners continued to strike, forcing the government to concede to many of their demands, concessions that even the mine owners refused to grant. -1946

Monday, May 22:

Eugene Debs (Co-founder, IWW and ARU) was thrown in prison for his role in the Pullman Railway Strike (also known as the “Debs Rebellion”). -1895

The Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (CIO’s) Steel Workers Organizing Committee is disbanded at a Cleveland convention and immediately succeeded by the workers’ new Union, the United Steel Workers of America. -1942

Tuesday, May 23:

100,000 textile workers, including more than 10,000 children, strike in the Philadelphia area. Among the issues: 60-hour workweeks, including night hours, for the children. -1903

The Battle of Toledo begins today: 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 will be murdered and more than 200 will be injured. -1934

Labor folk singer/songwriter, labor organizer and proud IWW member Utah Phillips died. ("One of the most important songwriters to be found in North America." -Rolling Stone) Phillips loved spending time and performing in Butte; he co-wrote the song “Look for Me in Butte”. -2008

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




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