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This Week in Labor History (May 23 - 29):


“The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor...The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.” - Helen Keller, American icon, IWW member, Social Justice Activist

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, May 24:

Earth First and IWW organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were nearly killed by a pipe bomb in Oakland. Judi and Darryl had been successfully organizing timber workers into the IWW. The bomb was placed under the drivers seat of their car and set to explode when the car moved. Police arrived within seconds and immediately arrested the bloody victims before taking them to the hospital. Local police destroyed evidence. The FBI and the timber industry collaborated to manufacture the whole incident. Corporate timber feared "radical" environmentalists would unite with rank and file Unionized timber workers. -1990

2,300 members of the United Rubber Workers, on strike for 10 months against 5 Bridgestone-Firestone plants, agree to return to work without a contract. They had been fighting demands for 12-hour shifts and wages tied to productivity. -1995

Friday, May 25:

Philip Murray is born. He was founder and the first president of the United Steelworkers of America, and head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) from 1940 until his death in 1952. -1886

The 11-month Remington Rand strike begins. The strike spawned the "Mohawk Valley Formula," described by investigators as a corporate plan to discredit Union leaders, frighten the public with the threat of violence, employ thugs to beat up strikers, and other tactics. The National Labor Relations Board termed the formula "a battle plan for industrial war". -1936

Saturday, May 26:

Western Federation of Miners members strike for 8-hour day, Cripple Creek, Colo. The WFM was formed in Butte Montana, they  were labeled “Radicals”  by the capitalists because they supported such “radical” ideas as the 8-hour day, safe working conditions and fair pay. -1894

Ford Motor Co. security guards brutally attack Union organizers attempting to distribute literature outside the plant in Dearborn, Mich., in an event that was to become known as the “Battle of the Overpass.” The guards tried to destroy any photos showing the bloody attack, but some survived and inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography. -1937

Sunday, May 27:

Golden Gate Bridge opens. Work began January 5, 1933. Until February 17, 1937, there had been only one fatality, setting a new all-time record in a field where one man killed for every million dollars spent had been the norm. On February 17, 10 men lost their lives when a section of scaffold fell through the safety net. -1937

The U.S. Fishermen and Allied Workers Union merged with the ILWU. -1947

Monday, May 28:

The Ladies Shoe Binders Society formed in New York. -1835

30,000 workers in Rochester, N.Y., participate in a General Strike in support of municipal workers who had been fired for forming a Union. -1946

Tuesday, May 29:

The United Mine Workers (UMWA) and the U.S. government signed a pact establishing one of America’s first Union medical and pension plan. The UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund permanently changed health care delivery in U.S. coal fields. The Fund was used to build 8 hospitals in Appalachia. It also established many clinics and recruited doctors to practice in rural coal field areas. -1946

The United Farm Workers of America reaches agreement with Bruce Church Inc. ending a 17-year-long boycott. The pact raised wages, provided company-paid health benefits to workers and their families, created a seniority system to deal with seasonal layoffs and recalls, and established a pesticide monitoring system. -1996


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


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