Labor History in 2:00
June 19 - The Fight to Free the Hawaii Seven

June 19 - The Fight to Free the Hawaii Seven

June 19, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1953.

That was the day 26,000 members of the ILWU in Hawaii walked off the job.

Their strike was a four-day protest against the witch-hunt convictions of the Hawaii Seven.

Many docks and plantations immediately shut down.

Stevedores refused to load military cargo headed to the war in Korea.

At the height of the McCarthyite Red Scare, union militants continued to be the primary targets of the anti-Communist hysteria. 

Longshoreman leader Jack Hall and six-codefendants had just been tried and convicted under the Smith Act.

The ILWU denounced the trial and verdict as a frame-up.

It was the ultimate move to bust the increasingly powerful union on the islands.

The ILWU had come under heightened surveillance after successfully organizing stevedores and many sugar and pineapple plantations. 

The real trouble began after a long and bitter dock strike in 1949.

Then Nebraska Senator Hugh Butler proclaimed the island to be firmly in the grips of a Communist attack. 

HUAC arrived the next year to investigate the ‘Red Situation.’ 

In August 1951, the FBI conducted early morning raids to arrest the Seven on charges of violating the Smith Act.

The arrests came just as the ILWU threatened a sugar strike, having reached an impasse in contract negotiations.

During the trial, it was clear the Seven were being tried not for anything they did, but for allegedly being part of a vast and secret conspiracy.

The proceedings had the quality of a show trial, designed more to terrorize the public and labor movement, than to prosecute any actual crime.

Their convictions were finally overturned with the landmark 1957 Yates decision, which rendered much of the Smith Act unenforceable.

June 18 - The Battle of Ballantyne Pier

June 18 - The Battle of Ballantyne Pier

June 18, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1935.

That was the day more than a thousand locked out dockworkers battled police forces in Vancouver, British Columbia in the ‘Battle of Ballantyne Pier.’ 

The dispute began weeks earlier when the Shipping Federation locked out dockworkers at Powell River, using scabs to load and unload cargo. 

Shipping magnates feared Communist leadership had taken over the company unions they established in the 20s. 

Workers at other ports in British Columbia now refused to handle Powell River cargo and were locked out. 

Hot cargoing was the main issue. 

But dockers also demanded higher wages, union recognition and fair dispatching.

The previous year’s West Coast Waterfront strike had put dockworkers everywhere in a fighting mood.

In Vancouver, dockers ousted management lackeys from their union and voted in a radical leadership during a recent election. 

Shipping bosses, local politicians and businessmen all cried ‘Bolshevik Menace.’ 

They formed a Citizens League and prepared for battle. 

On this day, striking dockers marched to Ballantyne Pier, where they had been denied the right to picket.

They were determined to stop the scabbing and intended to confront scabs directly. 

Led by World War I veteran, Mickey O’Rourke, dockers were abruptly stopped at the pier entrance by Vancouver Police. 

Immediately, they were beaten and tear gassed by club-wielding police and despised specials. 

Soon British Columbia Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police emerged to join in on the assault. 

The fighting continued for three hours. 

Police horses trampled many as they tried to escape. 

Scores were hospitalized and arrested. 

The strike dragged on for months and ended in defeat. 

But dockers would win the war through ten years of hard, dedicated organizing that culminated with an ILWU charter in 1945.


June 17 - IWW Strikes Studebaker

June 17 - IWW Strikes Studebaker

June 17, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1913.

That was the day the Industrial Workers of the World led a strike at Studebaker in Detroit.

IWW organizers Matilda Rabinowitz, Jack Walsh and others arrived in Detroit to organize.

They gave lunchtime speeches outside the auto plants. 

Their speeches were so popular with Ford workers that managers at the Highland Park plant stopped allowing workers to take their lunches outside and had organizers arrested. 

They moved on to try to organize Studebaker, where they had supporters inside. 

Workers there had complaints similar to those at Ford, namely long hours and endless speed-up. 

At Studebaker, workers were also angry when management changed the way they were paid--from weekly to every other week. 

IWW supporter Dale Schlosser was fired from Studebaker’s #3 plant as he tried to circulate a petition for a return to weekly paydays. 

Word spread like wildfire and 3500 workers walked off the job in the first auto strike in Detroit. Rabinowitz and Walsh led a seven-mile march of thousands to Studebaker #1 and then downtown to Studebaker #5, calling workers out on strike. 

By the end of the day nearly 6,000 workers speaking a number of different languages voted for IWW representation and put together a list of grievances. 

IWW organizers envisioned an industry wide strike and 2000 strikers marched to the Packard plant the next day to call those workers out to join the strike.  

There they were met and beaten by police.

The strike and organizing drive was quickly crushed. Rabinowitz remarked that workers returning to Studebaker were even more determined to fight. 

IWW organizer Frank Bohn observed, “the strike was not for a few days or weeks, but maybe twenty or thirty years.”

June 16 - Debs Rails Against the War in Canton

June 16 - Debs Rails Against the War in Canton

June 16, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1918. 

That was the day Eugene V. Debs, leader of the Socialist Party gave his legendary anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio.

It was the speech for which he would eventually be arrested, tried and convicted under the Espionage Act. 

Though he avoided explicitly criticizing World War I or President Wilson, he made clear his views. 

He gave the speech at a park near the jail where Charles Baker, Charles Ruthenberg and Alfred Wagenknecht, three prominent socialists, were being held on Espionage Act related charges.

Debs noted, “it is extremely dangerous to exercise the constitutional right of free speech in a country fighting to make democracy safe in the world.”

Debs was defiant.

He unloaded his rage against the judicial system and the conviction of Socialist leader Kate Richards O’Hare for her anti-war views.

He railed against the suppression of Max Eastman’s Socialist press and the ongoing persecution of Socialists Tom Mooney and William Billings.

Debs briefly reviewed the history of wars in Europe and made the following observation:

“The master class has always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war… the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace…”

For this he was convicted of advocating disloyalty and draft resistance and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

June 15 - Violence Erupts in the Valley of Steel

June 15 - Violence Erupts in the Valley of Steel

June 15, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.

That was the day anti-union violence erupted in the “Valley of Steel.”

The Little Steel Strike was then in its 20thday.

The strike had spread to Bethlehem’s Cambria Works in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Newspaper headlines screamed: “30 Clubbed, Stabbed, Shot in Strike: Guerilla Warfare Breaks Out Anew in Pennsylvania.”

The day had been marred by hours of fighting with scabs and the police as miners joined picketers in support

Strikers lobbed rocks at scab cars attempting to drive through picket lines and successfully overturned a number of vehicles.

Steel-helmeted police attacked strikers, swinging riot clubs and launching tear gas shells.

One picketer, Tony Mandos was in critical condition after having been shot twice by police.

Mayor Daniel Shields announced he had deputized 250 special police, and was preparing to “raise an army of 3000 American Legionnaires by nightfall to protect the city of Johnstown from strikers.”

At Warren, Ohio, dynamite crippled railroad operations at a struck Republic Steel Mill on the Ashtabula-Niles Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The explosion came after carloads of raw material had been shunted in and products shipped out of the mill.

Auto plants throughout the Midwest slowed production for lack of steel-made parts.

UAW president Homer Martin dispatched a telegram to CIO leader, John L. Lewis: “We are standing by ready to refuse to use steel made in struck plants in the production of automobiles unless the steel companies make a speedy and amicable settlement with striking steel workers.”

The CIO threatened a 20,000 strong strike support rally through the streets of Johnstown to protest the violence.

They claimed victory when the Governor quickly declared martial law and padlocked the gates to Cambria Works.

June 14 - Miners Bolster SWOC with Solidarity Strike

June 14 - Miners Bolster SWOC with Solidarity Strike

June 14, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.

That was the day John L. Lewis called miners who worked for Little Steel coal subsidiaries out on strike. 

It was an act of solidarity as conditions worsened on steel strike picket lines. 

The walkout was designed to force the closure of struck mills by stopping the flow of coal.

10,000 workers in as many as 19 mines owned by Republic Steel, Bethlehem Steel and Youngstown Sheet and Tube dropped their tools.

Bethlehem had not been one of the independent steel companies initially included in the Little Steel Strike. 

But workers at its Cambria Works in Johnstown, Pennsylvania walked out in sympathy with railroad workers at Bethlehem-owned Black Lick and Conemaugh Railroad. 

They had been refused a contract.

Striking miners in Johnstown marched to Cambria Works to join the seven-mile stretch of picket lines. 

In Ohio, the Canton Federation of Labor voted unanimously for a general strike if the newly-formed ‘Citizens League” attempted to force re-opening of the steel mills.

SWOC leader Van Bittner threatened to call out another 600,000 miners by weeks end if the strike was not settled.

John L. Lewis remarked, “Labor is menaced by the force of arms of Republic Steel Corporation. Labor is calling attention to this situation so the law, government or public opinion can begin functioning before another massacre takes place.” 

UAW president Homer Martin added, “It is our purpose to spread the light of Democracy to every part of this land until autocracy and industrial slavery have been driven from the country.”

But Johnstown civic leaders and town officials had formed a Citizens Committee and prepared for battle as the miners approached. 

It seemed there was no end to the anti-strike violence.

June 13 - Tony Mazzocchi is Born

June 13 - Tony Mazzocchi is Born

June 13, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1926.

That was the day union leader Tony Mazzocchi was born. 

He is remembered as a long-time leader and international official with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union. 

Mazzocchi was a primary force behind the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. 

He was also centrally involved in the grievances Karen Silkwood brought against the Kerr-McGee Company. 

During the 90s, he worked tirelessly to establish a Labor Party as an independent political force that could truly represent working people. 

Mazzocchi was born in Brooklyn, New York to a union family. 

After fighting in World War II, he hired on at a cosmetics factory organized by the Gas Workers Union. 

He quickly emerged as a leader, fought for the rights of women workers and soon became president of his local. 

He would go on to aid in the merging of his union with Oil Workers International that created OCAW. 

Within 10 years, he had become the international’s Citizenship-Legislative Director. 

Many have noted that Mazzocchi was one of the first labor leaders to build ties with the environmental movement. 

He linked hazards in the workplace with hazards in the environment.

He showed how workers and the public shared similar concerns about health and safety. 

He pioneered the blue-green alliance that continues to advocate green blue-collar jobs, built union reading clubs and pushed his members towards social justice unionism.

Mazzocchi was a coalition builder and worked with allies for clean water and air, single payer health care, free education and just trade policies.

The United Steel Workers named their Health, Safety and the Environment Center in his honor.  

He died in 2002 of pancreatic cancer. He was 76.

June 12 -The Bosses’ Blueprint for Industrial War

June 12 -The Bosses’ Blueprint for Industrial War

June 12, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1936.

That was the day Remington Rand president, James Rand boasted of a new scheme.

He called it the Mohawk Valley Formula. 

It served as a blueprint for the future of union busting. 

The National Labor Relations Board called it a battle plan for industrial war. 

Workers at Remington Rand had walked out on strike against the union in late May after enduring a year of anti-union harassment, threatened plant closures and firings of top union leaders. 

The company used a number of dirty tricks during the strike to mislead and demoralize strike forces. 

In his book, The Last Great Strike, Ahmed White describes the purpose and function of the Formula: writing “The scheme figured in the Little Steel Strike, as several authorities would accuse the steel companies of patterning their response to the steel strike after Rand’s formula. It consisted of no fewer than 9 steps, all oriented to employing threatening armed forces, spies and provocateurs, company-sponsored back-to-work movements and staged re-openings to terrorize and demoralize strikers; provoke strikers to violence, and discredit them; then use the specter of violence and pretense of a “state of emergency” to mobilize opposition to the strike on the part of local police and courts; and finally announcing that the strike had been broken and that any remaining resistance was the work of an intractable minority hostile to community values and the “right to work.” 

The central insight behind the formula was that violence could be used, not only to drive workers off picket lines and paralyze them with fear, but also to turn both the law and political sentiments against unionists while justifying the employer’s own conduct and excusing its contempt for labor rights.”

June 11 - Wildcat at Dodge Truck

June 11 - Wildcat at Dodge Truck

June 11, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1974. 

That was the day workers at the Dodge Truck plant in Warren, Michigan went out on a wildcat strike. 

Workers were fed up with endless attacks from management and disappointing contract negotiations the year before. 

Wildcats had become almost commonplace in Detroit area auto plants the previous summer. 

Arbitrary discipline, deteriorating working conditions and frustration with the union’s response all led to the three-day walkout. 

10 days earlier, 100 workers had staged a sick-in over working conditions. 

When the company threatened firings, more workers dropped their tools.

Now four had been fired, including the second shift chief steward. 

The response was immediate. 

Within an hour, the plant was virtually shut down. 

6000 workers voted to continue the strike. 

Wildcat leaders noted that virtually all the routine antagonisms among workers, young vs. old, black vs. white, women vs. men, had melted away in solidarity. 

Socialist and anarchist workers in the plant published their recollections in a commemorative pamphlet entitled Wildcat: Dodge Truck, June 1974.  

In it they state, “We were excited by the collective decision of thousands of Chrysler employees to deny the authority of daily wage labor and, for even four days, to say no to the demands of the alarm clock, the production line, bosses, union bureaucrats, judges and cops… It was in fact, a total frustration with and rejection of, all the things, inside and outside the plant, which exercise control over our lives.” 

By the time it was over, thirty strikers had been arrested, strike leaders were branded as communist agitators by the union, and area judges issued injunctions to end the picketing.

The wildcat may have failed but workers had pushed back against management offensives.

June 10 - The Little Steel Strike Flares

June 10 - The Little Steel Strike Flares

June 10, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1937. 

That was the day striking steelworkers battled back-to-work forces at Newton Steel in Monroe, Michigan.

Steelworkers were on strike against three steel companies across five states in the push to organize ‘Little Steel.’

Of the three, Republic Steel sites had experienced brutal picket line violence, especially in South Chicago. 

Republic had recently purchased Newton Rolling Mill.

Management there was bent on forcing the reopening of the plant. 

John L. Lewis promised 8,000-10,000 workers from Detroit to bolster picket lines. 

The Mayor of Monroe, Daniel Knaggs called upon all able-bodied men with military experience to enlist in a ‘citizen’s army’ to escort scabs back to work. 

Police and hundreds of deputies set up check points on the outskirts of the city to stop suspected CIO supporters from entering Monroe. 

Black SWOC organizer Leonides McDonald from Chicago had already been dragged from his car, beaten, and driven from town on foot by scabs earlier in the day. 

At the same time, Mayor Knaggs, company officials as well as SWOC and company union organizers met in the state’s capitol with Governor Murphy to negotiate a settlement. 

As they met, 200 more special police were sworn in and instructed in the use of side arms and tear gas. 

Police, deputies, and scabs armed with guns, clubs and tear gas shattered the picket line that evening. 

Then deputies seized strikers’ cars and drove them into the river! 

18 strikers were hospitalized.

Outraged UAW supporters from Pontiac declared a labor holiday in protest and headed to Monroe. 

But UAW officials ordered them to turn back in an effort to stem the anti-union violence. 

The organizing drive had been dealt another serious setback.


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