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City Desk

This Week in Labor History May 9 - 15


"Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the Union of their choice." -Dwight D. Eisenhower, Progressive Republican President 


Wednesday, May 9:

Longshoremen’s Union strike leads to 4-day General strike in San Francisco. Longshoremen walked off the job at ports up and down the West Coast, soon to be followed by sailors. Many strikers were shot and killed by the bosses’ goons. The IWW spent the 20's attempting to organize the dockworkers, although their efforts were crushed, syndicalist thinking and militant Unionism remained extremely popular on the docks as part of their legacy. The strike lasts until July 30th. -1934

United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther and his wife May die in a suspicious plane crash as they travel to oversee construction of the Union’s education and training facility. Reuther had survived several earlier assassination attempts. -1971

Thursday, May 10:

The UMW (United Mine Workers) calls a selective strike against US coal mines. -1993

A federal bankruptcy judge permits United Airlines to legally abandon all responsibility for worker's pensions, 120,000 employees lose their earned benefits. Executives keep their benefits and get bonuses. -2005

Friday, May 11

Beginning of the Pullman Railroad Strike to protest wage cuts, Chicago, Illinois. The American Railroad Union strikes the Pullman Sleeping Car Co. Eugene Debs soon joins the strike. The largest industrial strike to this date in U.S. history was eventually broken by federal government troops. At least 24 strikers were murdered in order to protect profits. -1894

Puget Sound Grocery Workers (Seattle, Washington) strike. -1989

Saturday, May 12:

Bob Dylan walks out of TV dress rehearsals for "The Ed Sullivan Show." When CBS censors tell Dylan he cannot perform his "Talkin John Birch Society Blues" (satirical song skewering McCarthyism and wacky right-wing paranoia). Dylan refuses to appear on the show. -1963

In an unprecedented show of respect and Solidarity, on the day of Walter and May Reuther’s funeral, May 12, UAW International Union members at over 300 plants across the U.S. and Canada turned off their machines and halted assembly lines for 3 minutes to honor their fallen leader. -1970

Butte Montana: Anaconda Company bans I.W.W. Union members from mines. Posted signs read "No member of I.W.W. will be employed at this property."  The ban had limited effect and some say it even increased membership in the Union. The IWW has a long history fighting for Montana’s working class, including winning the right of Free Speech for all Montanans during Missoula’s IWW Free Speech Fights.  The Wobblies played a significant role in Butte's labor movement and are part of Butte's “Radical” history that included the Western Federation of Miners. -1920                                                                                                           

Sunday, May 13:

Western Federation of Miners formed in Butte, Montana. They organized the hard rock miners of the Rocky Mountain states into a labor Union deemed “radical” by mine owners and investors, who would prefer the miners die in the mines more quietly. Butte Miner’s Union becomes “Local Number One”. -1893

Brody Mine WV collapsed killing 2. The mine, owned by Patriot Coal was deemed a “pattern violator” and received 253 violations during a 12-month review. The MSHA report says the violations show the mine had a disregard for the health and safety of its miners. -2014

Monday, May 14:

"We Want Beer" marches are held in cities all over America, with 15,000 Unionized workers demonstrating in Detroit. Prohibition is repealed next year. -1932

Milwaukee brewery workers begin a 10-week strike, demanding contracts comparable to East and West Coast workers. The strike was won because Blatz Brewery accepts their demands; Blatz was later ousted from the Brewers Association for “unethical” business methods. -1953


Tuesday, May 15:

Supreme Court rules in favor of Samuel Gompers and other Union leaders for supporting a boycott at the Buck Stove and Range Co. in St. Louis, workers were striking for a 9-hour day. A lower court had sentenced the Unionists to prison for refusing to obey an anti-boycott injunction. -1906

Utah Phillips, American labor organizer, folk singer, and storyteller born. He described the struggles of Labor Unions, the power of direct action and was a proud member of the IWW.  -1935

National Labor Relations Act passed, recognizing workers' right to organize and bargain collectively. -1935

T-Bone Slim, IWW songwriter, died. T-Bone wrote such Wobbly classics as “The Popular Wobbly,” and “The Lumberjack’s Prayer”.T-Bone quote: “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.” -1942


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



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