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This Week in Labor History: January 10 - 16


"We must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which Unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights." -Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  

Wednesday, Jan 10:

In what is described as the worst industrial disaster in state history, the Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, Mass., collapses, trapping 900 workers, mostly Irish women. More than 100 die, scores more injured in the collapse and ensuing fire. Too much heavy machinery had been crammed into the building. (Before our pesky Federal regulations could get in the way of profits).  -1860

Former AFL-CIO President George Meany dies at age 85. The one-time plumber led the labor federation from the time of the AFL and CIO merger in 1955 until shortly before his death. -1980


Thursday, Jan 11:

The IWW-organized “Bread & Roses” textile strike of 32,000 women and children begins in Lawrence, Mass. IWW leaders Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn helped lead the strike. It lasted 10 weeks and ended in victory. The legislature cut maximum working hours for women and children from 56 to 54 hours per week and the employers had cut their pay along with the hours. The first mill-workers to walk out were Polish women, who, upon collecting their pay, exclaimed that they had been cheated and promptly abandoned their looms. Many were forced to send their children to live with supporters living in New York during the strike. -1912

Nearly two weeks into a sit-down strike at GM’s Fisher Body Plant No. 2 in Flint, Mich., workers battle police when they try to prevent the strikers from receiving food deliveries from thousands of supporters on the outside. 16 strikers and 11 police were injured. The strikers were hit by buckshot fired by police riot guns; the police were injured principally by thrown nuts, bolts, door hinges and other auto parts. The incident became known as the “Battle of the Running Bulls”. -1936


Friday, Jan 12:

Novelist Jack London is born. His classic definition of a scab - someone who would cross a picket line and take a striker's job: "After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles". -1876

President John F. Kennedy signs Executive Order 10988, guaranteeing federal workers the right to join Unions and bargain collectively. -1962


Saturday, Jan 13:

The original Tompkins Square Riot. As unemployed workers demonstrated in New York's Tompkins Square Park, a detachment of mounted police charged into the crowd, beating men, women, and children with billy clubs. Declared Abram Duryee, the Commissioner of Police: "It was the most glorious sight I ever saw..." -1874

IWW organizer and singer/songwriter Joe Hill is falsely accused and arrested for killing two men during a grocery store hold-up in Utah. He ultimately is executed by firing squad (His last word was “Fire!”) despite overwhelming evidence that he was framed and condemned solely for his association with the Industrial Workers of the World. When he was arrested was smiling and joked “I'm feeling pretty smart, and I'm also thinking about what I am going to do with that money at the end of the year." -1914


Sunday, Jan 14:

A Brooklyn trolley strike began on this date (lasting until Feb. 28). The militia was called out and martial law declared in order to suppress it. Members of the Knights of Labor battled militiamen in the streets. -1895

14,000 General Electric employees strike for two days to protest the company’s mid-contract decision to shift an average of $400 in additional health care co-payments onto each worker. - 2003


Monday, Jan 15:

Wobbly Ralph Chaplin, in Chicago for a demonstration against hunger, completes the writing of the labor anthem “Solidarity Forever” on this date. He’d begun writing it in 1914 during a miner’s strike in Huntington, W. Va. -1915

Martin Luther King Jr. born. People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. -1929


Tuesday, Jan 16:

Thousands of Palmer Raids detainees win right to meet with lawyers and attorney representation at deportation hearings. "Palmer" was the anti-Union U.S. attorney general under Woodrow Wilson. Palmer falsely accused Unions of being “Communists” and used the public's fear of Communism to crush the American Labor movement on behalf of the corporations. The offices of the IWW were raided and thousands of Wobblies (IWW members) were held without trial hundred were forcefully deported. -1920

Former UAW President Leonard Woodcock dies in Ann Arbor, Mich., at age 89. He had succeeded Walter Reuther and led the union from 1970 to 1977.  -2001


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

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