Labor History in 2:00
September 24 - IWW Banned in Canada

September 24 - IWW Banned in Canada

September 24, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1918. 

That was the day that the Industrial Workers of the World union was banned in Canada. 

The Industrial Workers of the World union had grown steadily in Canada reaching as many as 10,000 members by 1911. 

The union was especially strong in mining, logging, and the textile industry. 

But backlash against the radical union was mounting in the United States and in Canada.

Swept up in Red Scare hysteria, the governments of both nations targeted the IWW.

With the beginning of World War I, labor unions that dared to threaten strikes or to speak out against militarization were met with harsh reprisals.  

By 1914 the Canadian IWW had less than 1,000 members.

In May of 1918, eighteen Canadian IWW leaders were arrested while they attended a meeting in Ottawa.

Those arrested were immigrants and were sent to a labor internment camp. 

Then the Canadian government moved to ban the organization all together. 

The ban against the IWW would last until the end of World War I. 

Those found to be affiliated with the union faced up to five years in prison. 

13 other organizations were also banned in Canada, including the Chinese Labour Association and the Social Labor Party.

The act further read that it was illegal to attend “meetings, except religious services, during the present war at which the proceedings are conducted in the language of any country with which Canada is at war, or in the languages of Russia, Ukraine or Finland.” 

After the war, the IWW was allowed again in Canada, and slowly it began to rebuild. 

But the scars inflicted during the war years took a lasting toll on the union’s membership.

September 23 - Dr. Harriet Louise Hardy is Born

September 23 - Dr. Harriet Louise Hardy is Born

September 23, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1906. 

That was the day that Dr. Harriet Louise Hardy was born in Arlington, Massachusetts. 

She pursued a career in medicine, driven by personal family tragedy. 

She lost her father to pneumonia when she was only four years old. 

She also lost a baby brother to the 1918 influenza outbreak. 

Dr. Hardy became an early leader in the field of occupational medicine. 

She was also the first woman to become a full professor at Harvard medical School. 

Dr. Hardy began her career in occupational medicine when she began to investigate the causes of illness among workers making fluorescent lights in factories north of Boston. 

Most of these workers were women. 

Dr. Hardy researched the cases of berylliosis in Lynn and Salem Massachusetts. 

The metal beryllium is used in making the lights. 

Inhaling dust or fumes of the metal can be deadly, but symptoms often do not begin to show up until years after exposure. 

Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing and scarred lungs. 

Dr. Hardy developed the National Beryllium Registry. 

It was one of the first registries of its kind to track the impact of a chronic health disorder.

Her research helped lead to safety measures in the handling of this dangerous metal. 

Dr. Hardy also worked with unions including the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and The United Mine Workers to identify and address workplace health hazards. 

These included substances like lead, mercury, anthrax and asbestos.

She wrote a textbook on the subject of industrial toxicology, with another pioneer in the field of occupational health, Dr. Alice Hamilton. 

Dr. Hardy helped to forge new ground in making jobsites more safe and healthy for workers.

September 22 - The First Farm-Aid

September 22 - The First Farm-Aid

September 22, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1985. 

That was the year that the first Farm Aid concert was held in Champaign, Illinois.    

A retrospective article in Time magazine reported, “In the 1980s, American farmers were hit hard by what were, at the time, the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.  Droughts ravaged the fields, property values plunged, loan interest rates soared, thousands were forced off their land and faced foreclosure and bankruptcy.”

Farmer suicides rose at alarming rates.

The idea to use music to aid the farmers began with Bob Dylan at an event to help African famine victims. 

Then, musicians Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young took up his idea and ran with it. 

Fifty musicians took the stage at the University of Illinois football stadium. 

The organizers were joined by such headliners as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Rogers, Joni Mitchel, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, and more. 

The musicians played for fourteen hours to a rain-soaked crowd of nearly 80,000. 

A telethon also helped to bring in donations. 

It raised $9 million for farm relief. 

More importantly it helped raise national awareness of the dire economic conditions faced by many small farmers. 

Farm Aid has continued to hold concerts for small farmers. 

In 2015 the thirtieth anniversary concert was held in Chicago. 

As an organization Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million for small farmers. 

September 21 -  Fighting to Maintain Standards

September 21 - Fighting to Maintain Standards

September 21, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1991. 

That was the day that members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 went on strike against the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. 

What they did not know was that the strike would last for more than six years—becoming one of the longest work actions in U.S. labor history.

The Frontier was the second casino to open on the Vegas Strip in 1942.  

At the time of the strike the Elardi family owned the historic casino. 

The Elardi’s were vehemently anti-union. 

They renovated the old facility and then reopened refusing to sign a contract to pay its workers the same rate provided at most other Vegas casinos. 

Claiming that the Frontier was too small to match the wages of the larger outfits, management refused to budge from their position.

In response, Local 226 members mobilized. 

The year before Hattie Canty had been elected President of the local. 

She was a black mother of ten children and a widow. 

She had worked as a hotel maid. 

Her leadership brought new determination to the Culinary Union. 

Local 226 set up 24-hour picket lines outside the Frontier. 

The strike was joined by Bartenders Local 165, Teamsters Local 995, Operating Engineers local 501 and Carpenters Local 1780. 

The strike became an important moment in Vegas labor history—as other casino owners looked on, watching the labor battle unfold. 

The unions stood strong. 

The picketers demand that the owners should “Sell, Shut Down, or Sign.” 

In the end, the Elardis decide to sell. 

The new ownership signed a union contract and rehired 280 striking workers.  

Triumphant union members cut a red ribbon at the hotel to mark their victory

September 20 - The Fight for Equality

September 20 - The Fight for Equality

September 20, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1830. 

That was the day that the Reverend Richard Allen brought black leaders together at his Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia. 

They met to discuss the rising white racial violence and discrimination toward free black residents of northern cities. 

Forty people answered Allen’s call, representing seven states.

The delegates included many of the leading black ministers and abolitionists of the day.

Those who attended risked personal harm as white mobs threatened the delegates. 

Due to the danger, the group met in secret starting on September 15th.  

Then on this day they began open sessions.

For five days the delegates considered multiple responses to the conditions black northerners faced.  

They founded the “American Society for Free Persons of Colour for Improving their Condition in the United States: For Purchasing Lands: and for Establishment of a Settlement in the Province of Canada.” 

The organization emphasized pushing for legal protections for black residents in the United States.

They focused on education as a means of uplifting and improving the lives of black citizens.  

But delegates also supported the idea of an outlet to Canada for those black families who wanted to leave for their safety.  

The national Convention reconvened several times over the next three decades.  

Multiple meetings were held at the state and local levels.

These meetings gave black leaders a chance to devise coordinated strategies to stand up against the increasing violence and restrictive laws of the North, and to call for the end of slavery in the South.

One outcome of these meetings was the founding of labor schools to train black students in the skilled trades, as means to gain economic independence.

September 19 - The End of My Sweet Jennie

September 19 - The End of My Sweet Jennie

September 19, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1977. 

That was the day that is remembered in Youngstown, Ohio as “Black Monday.” 

The Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company announced plans to close its doors laying off more than 4,000 workers. 

Youngstown was a steel town. 

During the first half of the twentieth century, plants were booming.

Youngstown was a union town, a stronghold for the United Steelworkers by the 1940s.

But by the 1970s the once booming steel industry was going bust in Youngstown. 

More and more jobs moved overseas and to states with less union protections. 

Black Monday began a devastating series of plant closings. 

Two years later Brier Hill Mill closed, followed in 1980 by US Steel.

In 1985 it was Republic Steels’ turn. 

By the early 1990s, the steel industry, which had once employed 40,000 people only had 1,000 workers left in Youngstown.  

William Lawson, the Executive Director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, recalled the impact of the closings. 

“Over the course of my high school career, many boys and girls I had known in grade school left—some in the middle of school years, most during the summers—as their parents accepted transfers…to work in other plants around the country, or lost their jobs and went out in search of employment elsewhere.” 

In 1997, the Jeanette Furnace at the shuttered Briar Hill plant was dynamited, despite preservationists’ efforts to save it. 

Bringing down the “Sweet Jennie” furnace became symbol of Youngstown’s economic ruin, memorialized in Bruce Springtseen’s song Youngstown. 

September 18 - The Atlanta Compromise

September 18 - The Atlanta Compromise

September 18, 2021

On this day in Labor History the year was 1895. 

That was the day that Booker T. Washington delivered what came to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise Speech,” which outlined his vision for race relations and black labor in the South. 

Washington was the founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a college to train black students for careers in teaching, farming and other trades. 

Washington was invited to give an address to the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. 

It was the first time that a black man was asked to speak before a black and white Southern audience. 

In his speech he urged Southern land owners and business leaders to employ black labor over European immigrants. 

He said, “To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted, I would repeat what I say to my own race, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” 

He continued, “Cast it down among those people who have, without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, built your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South.” 

His speech outlined a plan for gradual black economic advancement. 

He declared, “agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly.”

Other black leaders, most notably W. E. B. Du Bois rejected Booker T. Washington’s ideas of gradual advancement.

Instead DuBois fought racial discrimination through the legal system and helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP.

September 17 - The Southern Differential

September 17 - The Southern Differential

September 17, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1947. 

That was the day workers at the International Harvester plant in Louisville, Kentucky had had enough. 

They had just rejected a pay scale lower than that of Harvester workers elsewhere.  

In her recent article for Leo Weekly, historian Toni Gilpin refers to the lower pay as the “Southern Differential.” 

Harvester workers walked off the job in a 40-day strike.

Black and white Louisville workers were united in a rare form of solidarity. 

International Harvester had had a long labor-hating history. 

Its forerunner had been the McCormick Reaper Works, the site that sparked the 1886 Haymarket incident in Chicago. 

Harvester had been able to keep the unions out until the Farm Equipment Workers/CIO finally organized there in 1941. 

And the FE followed Harvester as they attempted to escape to the union-free South. 

The FE successfully organized the new Louisville plant, just two months before the strike. 

Workers learned quickly that they were paid much less making the same equipment as their brothers in Chicago, Indianapolis and elsewhere. 

Gilpin adds that FE literature forthrightly stated, “Once the Negro and white workers were united, the low-wage system of the South would collapse.” 

Workers pressed for their demands, and appealed to area farmers for support. 

They stressed that farmers would not pay less for equipment, simply because local workers were paid less.

Black and white workers picketed together, ate together and planned their strike together at their new union hall.

Harvester initially tried to redbait FE leaders. 

When that failed, the company was forced to grant steep wage increases.

Gilpin cites FE News, which reported “two smashing victories in hand, one over International Harvester, the other over the Mason-Dixon, low-wage line.”

September 16 -Oil Workers Demand 52 for 40

September 16 -Oil Workers Demand 52 for 40

September 15, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1945. 

That was the day oil workers walked off the job. 

The strike soon spread to 20 states and involved more than 43,000 workers at 22 oil companies. 

After years of wartime wage freezes, the union’s demand was 52 for 40—fifty-two hours pay for 40 hours work. 

Workers demanded a 30% pay increase, shift differentials and an eventual return to the 36-hour workweek. 

The strike began in Michigan at the Socony-Vacuum refinery in Trenton. 

From there it spread to Gulf, Sinclair and Shell. 

By October 4, President Truman signed executive order 9639, allowing the Secretary of the Navy to seize petroleum operations.  

The Oil Workers International Union/CIO immediately called off the strike and ordered its members back to work.

A month later, the Navy had still not relinquished control of operations. 

The union considered Truman’s seizure a betrayal. 

There was no mechanism put in place to settle the dispute or consider workers demands. 

By January 1946, the Oil Panel, created by the Secretary of Labor, finally awarded oil workers an 18% wage increase.   

Though disappointed, the union considered it a victory.

They asserted the strike action was significant on a number of levels. 

The first nationwide industry strike had just forced the oil companies to meet with the union for the first time. 

The OWI believed the groundwork for industry-wide bargaining had finally been established.

It had been the first post-war strike and had forced the government to begin moving away from wartime wage controls. 

Of the post-war strikes, it won the largest pay increase. 

And importantly, it broke the power of Standard Oil to dictate wages to the industry through its dealings with its “independent union.”

September 15 - GM Rocked by Strike Wave of 350,000

September 15 - GM Rocked by Strike Wave of 350,000

September 15, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1970. 

That was the day 350,000 GM workers kicked off a 67-day strike. 

It was the largest auto strike since the end of World War II. 

According to historian Jefferson Cowie, it was likely the costliest. 

In his book, Stayin’ Alive, Cowie notes that the strike cost GM a billion dollars in profits and nearly bankrupted the union.   

But he adds it “lacked the proletarian drama that fired journalists’ hearts.” 

For Cowie, it was an example of labor-management cooperation, “a civilized affair.” 

But historian Jeremy Brecher points out that The Wall Street Journal drew different conclusions about the strike at the time. 

In a series of articles, the paper noted that labor-management cooperation during the strike served ironically, to get workers back to work.

A long and costly strike served a number of functions. 

It wore down strikers’ expectations. 

After eight or ten weeks, workers would be amenable to terms they initially rejected. 

It also provided an escape valve for built up frustration over working conditions. 

And a long strike served to coalesce internal union factions around a common enemy, strengthening the union’s leadership in the process. 

For management, a long and costly strike leant hope that workers would be reluctant to strike in the future. 

But Brecher notes, these ideas about workers motives nearly backfired. 

Strikers simply wouldn’t budge on their demands. 

They made gains in wages, pensions and cost of living allowances.

And they were finally able to retire after 30 years.  

But critics argued the agreement fell short of initial demands. 

And workers lacked more say in the workplace.  

This would be a key issue in the many strikes and wildcats in the years to come.


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