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City Desk

This Week in Labor History November 14 – 20


"American Fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the Corporatists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.” -Vice President Henry Wallace, 1944 warning of American Fascism

 By Kevin Curtis


Wednesday, Nov 14:

Trade Unions form the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Organizations, later becoming the AFL. Under the leadership of Samuel Gompers and Peter McGuire, the AFL became the most influential labor organization in the nation. -1881


Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI), right-wing lunatic, alcoholic and shame of the nation, born. McCarthyism destroyed the lives of thousands of good Americans and Union members by falsely accusing them of Communism. McCarthy stomped on civil liberties and the exercise of freedoms with impunity for his political gain until he was censured by the Senate. (McCarthyism and Red-Baiting were in fact used by Republican Sen. Steve Daines (MT), during his 2014 campaign to smear his opponent) -1909


Thursday, Nov 15:

New York City IWW headquarters were destroyed by agents acting under US Attorney General Palmer in his continuing persecution of Union “militants” and "radicals". The Palmer raids were part of the first U.S. Communist witch hunt (Red Scare), starting well before the more well-known McCarthy purges. Government agents illegally break into Union buildings, homes, meeting halls, arresting without cause or charges. This was also when J. Edgar Hoover cut his baby teeth. -1919


4 workers killed and one injured during a hazardous chemical (methyl mercaptan) leak at a DuPont industrial plant in suburban Houston. DuPont had ignored safety standards to increase shareholder profits. -2014


Friday, Nov 16:

Ravensdale coal mine explosion kills 31 workers, Washington State. The mine was well known for excessive coal dust and dangerous working conditions. -1916


A county judge in Punxsutawney, Pa., grants an injunction requested by the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Co. forbidding strikers from speaking to strikebreakers, posting signs declaring a strike is in progress, or even singing hymns. Union leaders termed the injunction “drastic”. -1927


Saturday, Nov 17:

Martin Irons dies near Waco, Texas. He joined the Knights of Labor and in 1886 led a strike of 200,000 workers against the Jay Gould-owned railroads. The strike was crushed, Irons was blacklisted and he died broken-down and penniless. Mother Jones said: "The Capitalist class hounded him as if he had been a wild beast." -1900


Dr. Ben Reitman, free speech champion, died on this day. Reitman served as a doctor and participated in numerous IWW Free Speech fights across the country (including Missoula), getting beaten, tarred and feathered, branded with "I.W.W.", sodomized, tortured and jailed for his troubles. He also wrote the book, Boxcar Bertha. -1942


Sunday, Nov 18:

Seattle printers refuse to print all anti-labor ads in newspapers. -1919


Organization of General Motors workers begins with Atlanta sit-down strike. -1936


Monday, Nov 19:

Joe Hill, IWW organizer and song writer was executed by a Utah firing squad after being convicted of murder on false charges. Ultimately he was condemned for his association with the Industrial Workers of the World, the "radical" Wobblies and his dedication to the working class. His final message from prison was “Don’t mourn, Organize!” His ashes were sprinkled in every state, except Utah, because he had said, “I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” The IWW still keeps a small vial of his remaining ashes; a pinch is also known to be in the guitar of IWW songster Mark Ross. (IWW...we never forget) -1915


The National Writers Union is founded, representing freelance and contract writers and others in the trade. In 1992 it was to merge into and become a local of the United Auto Workers. -1981


Tuesday, Nov 20:

First use of term “scab,” was used by Albany Typographical Society. The definition of a scab, as written by Jack London, - "A scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and the working class.” -1816


Bituminous coal workers went on strike directly against the US government, which had seized all the bituminous coal mines on May 21. The government secured an injunction against the strike, resulting in $3.5 million fine against the UMW. -1946


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


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