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Milestones for Labor

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." - Winston Churhill

It is always a good idea to understand history as it will give you an insight into what the present may bring. That being said, spring has had many milestones for Labor. Some of those highlights are listed below and are great starting points for your own study of what organized labor has accomplished in its struggles to better represent the American and Canadian worker.

1868 – San Francisco brewery workers begin a nine-month strike as local employers follow the union-busting lead of the National Brewer’s Association and fire their unionized workers, replacing them with scabs. Two unionized brewers refused to go along, kept producing beer, prospered wildly and induced the Association to capitulate. (A contract benefit since having unionized two years earlier, certainly worth defending: free beer.)

1886 – Mark Twain, a lifelong member of the Int’l Typographical Union (now part of CWA), speaks in Hartford, Conn., extolling the Labor’s commitment to fair treatment of all workers, regardless of race or gender.

1872 – Toronto printers strike for the nine-hour day in what is believed to be Canada’s first major strike.

1911 – A total of 146 workers are killed in a fire at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a disaster that would launch a national movement for safer working conditions.

1932 – Norris-La Guardia Act restricts injunctions against unions and bans yellow dog contracts, which require newly-hired workers to declare they are not union members and will not join one.

1935 – Members of Gas House Workers’ Union Local 18799 begin what is to become a four-month recognition strike against the Laclede Gas Light Co. in St. Louis. The union later said the strike was the first ever against a public utility in the U.S.

1941 – The Grand Coulee Dam on Washington state’s Columbia River begins operation after a decade of construction. Eight thousand workers labored on the project; 77 died.

1947 – An explosion at a coal mine in Centralia, Ill., kills 111 miners. Mineworkers President John L. Lewis calls a six-day work stoppage by the nation’s 400,000 soft coal miners to demand safer working conditions.

1968 – Martin Luther King, Jr., leads a march of striking sanitation workers, members of AFSCME Local 1733, in Memphis, Tenn. Violence during the march persuades him to return the following week to Memphis, where he was assassinated.

1970 – Five days into the Post Office’s first mass work stoppage in 195 years, President Nixon declares a national emergency and orders 30,000 troops to New York City to break the strike. The troops didn’t have a clue how to sort and deliver mail: a settlement came a few days later.

1974 – Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) founded in Chicago by some 3,000 delegates from 58 unions and other organizations.

2005 – Fifteen workers die, another 170 are injured when a series of explosions rip through BP’s Texas City refinery. Investigators blamed a poor safety culture at the plant and found BP management gave priority to cost savings over worker safety.


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