Labor History in 2:00
September 30 Remembering a Painful Past

September 30 Remembering a Painful Past

September 30, 2016

On this day in Labor History the year was 1919. 

That was the day that began the Elaine Massacre. 

The massacre took place in Arkansas, where more than 100 black farmers and sharecroppers were gunned down for daring to organize their labor. 

The Year before, a black farmer by the name of Robert L. Hill had founded the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America.

Union members pooled their money to purchase land. 

They also hired a lawyer to sue planters who did not give black tenant cotton farmers their fair share of the profits.

The group grew in membership in the Arkansas delta region, including near the town of Elaine in Philips County. 

But white landowners would not allow this challenge to their power. 

Armed white militias came to a church where the union was holding a meeting. 

The black attendees were also armed. 

Gunfire broke out. 

In response, white posses and federal troops unleashed a wave of terror across Philips County.

Hundreds of black residents were arrested. 

At least 100 black Arkansans were killed. 

Some estimates of those murdered is considerable higher. 

Five white people also died. 

122 black men and women were charged with murder.

Twelve were given the death sentence.

No white vigilante was ever charged. 

The convicted African Americans appealed their cases.

One appeal for six of the defendants went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where it was overturned in a landmark ruling.  

The year of 1919 was one of the deadliest years of violence against African Americans in U.S. history. 

Civil Rights activist James Weldon Johnson called those bloody months the “Red Summer.” 

Twenty-six race riots left thousands of African Americans homeless and hundreds dead from Chicago to Washington D.C. to Omaha.  

September 29 Creating a Standing Army

September 29 Creating a Standing Army

September 29, 2016

On this day in Labor History the year was 1789. 

That was the day that the United States Congress officially created the United States army.

Not everyone agreed that the U.S. should have a standing army. 

Two years earlier, at the meeting that drafted the U.S. Constitution, James Madison warned against a permanent federal army.

He told those at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”

Since Madison was a strong proponent of a centralized federal government, his caution about the army was noteworthy. 

Perhaps these warnings is why it took Congress until the last day of their session to finally approve the measure. 

In fact, President George Washington had to write Congress not once but twice to get them to act on the issue.

Once it was approved, the first standing Army had about 800 members. 

By comparison, in 2015 the Army had just under half a million in active duty soldiers. 

To supplement the small army, Congress also made a provision for the President to call up troops from State militias.

A stated purpose for such call ups, was “protecting the inhabitants of the frontiers of United States from hostile incursions of the Indians.”

While in federal service, the State militias were supposed to receive “the same as the pay and subsistence” as the regular army. 

One time various State militias were used was for the forced removal of the Cherokee people from the Southeast on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. 

State militias were also deployed to break up labor strikes, such as in the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania in 1892.

September 28 Solidarity on the Docks

September 28 Solidarity on the Docks

September 28, 2016

Would you be willing to stand up in solidarity with your fellow workers, even if it cost you your job?

On this day in Labor History the workers at Mersey Docks and Harbor Company in Liverpool, England answered that question. 

The year was 1995. 

329 Mersey Dock workers refused to cross a picket line that was being walked against another company on the docks. 

The workers at Torside had been fired for protesting against erosions in job security and increasingly unpredictable scheduling. 

They were speaking out against the casualization of their labor. 

When the Mersey Dock workers would not cross the Torside picket line, they too were fired. 

Dock workers across the world stood up in solidarity with the Mersey workers against this unjust treatment. 

They knew if it could happen in Liverpool, it might happen anywhere. 

Pickets sprung up from Norway to Japan, from Australia to Italy and into the United States. 

It was a global outpouring of solidarity. 

The strike wore on for 850 days. 

One year in to the strike, dockworkers held an international day of action in support of the Liverpool workers. 

Finally, two-and-a-half years after they were fired, the dockworkers agreed to a settlement. 

They did not get back their jobs. 

But they did get severance pay. 

A film was made about the struggle. 

The proceeds were used to purchase a bar in Liverpool. 

It is known as the Dockers Pub, and has become a space for working class organizing. 

The International Dockworkers Council was also born from this strike. 

Today the council has 90,000 members—a lasting movement of solidarity. 

Twenty years after the strike, dockworkers from across the world gathered in Liverpool to remember the struggle.

September 27 The Old 97

September 27 The Old 97

September 27, 2016

On this day in Labor History the year was 1903. 

That was the day that is remembered in Virginia as the “Wreck of old 97”. 

Old 97, also known as the Fast Mail, was a Southern Railway freight train. 

It carried the mail from Washington D.C. to Atlanta, Georgia. 

The train wreck happened on the leg of the trip from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina. 

The train had come in late to Monroe. 

It was reported that the railway company ordered the engineer to increase the speed of the train to make up time.

The company had to pay a penalty for delivering the mail late.

But when the trained neared Danville, Virginia the tracks curved at the Stillhouse Trestle Bridge.

The speed was too much. 

Despite the engineer’s efforts to slow the train, it careened off the tracks and plummeted to the rocky ravine forty-five feet below. 

Eleven of the sixteen people on board the train died, including the conductor, the engineer and the flagman, and both firemen. 

The railway company blamed the wreck on the deceased engineer.

Newspapers across the country carried photos of the wreck.

The disaster became the subject of multiple ballads. 

One version by Vernon Dalhart in 1924 is thought to be the first million-selling country record in the United States.

Johnny Cash recorded another well-known version of the song.

In 1993 an alternative country band took the name the “Old 97’s” harking back to the disaster and the songs it inspired. 

September 26 Disaster on the Job Around the World

September 26 Disaster on the Job Around the World

September 26, 2016

On this day in Labor History the year was 2007. 

It was that morning that a bridge under construction in Vietnam collapsed.

The disaster happened in Can Tho, about 100 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City.

It was a suspension bridge project to cross the Hau River.

The project was run by Japanese firms working with the Vietnamese government.

250 workers were on site at the project when the disaster happened.  

55 people were killed and another one hundred were injured due to the collapse. 

One reason cited for the collapse was that torrential downpours had caused the support structure for the bridge to sink. 

Another possible reason was that the scaffolding on the construction project was too weak to hold the weight.

When it failed, it took down a section of the four-lane concrete deck approach ramp with it. 

The fallen section weighed between 1,500 and 2,000 tons.  

The collapse was considered the worst disaster in the history of the Vietnam construction industry. 

Manh Hung, leader of one of the construction teams described what occurred. 

“We suddenly heard a great explosion at a bridge head.  Dust covered a great air space while workers screamed out.  The scene was so terrible.  The whole great block fell on people below.” 

Vietnamese, along with Japanese and Filipino rescue volunteers rushed to attempt to find survivors. 

1,000 local residents gave blood at the hospital for those injured.

The rescue efforts were hampered by the danger of a further collapse.

They had to use a crane to clear the rubble.

Finally, after four days, the rescue efforts were called off. 

The bridge project was completed in 2010.  

The names of the fallen workers are inscribed on a memorial.

September 25 Martyred for the Vote

September 25 Martyred for the Vote

September 25, 2016

On this day in Labor History the year was 1961.

That was the day when Herbert Lee was murdered just outside of Liberty, Mississippi. 

He was a successful black cotton farmer, who became active in efforts to register black voters.

Lee had nine children. 

He was one of the few area black farmers with a vehicle. 

This made him very valuable to the voter registration movement. 

Lee would drive Bob Moses from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee around Amite County to reach unregistered voters.  

It was dangerous work to register black share croppers and farmers in rural Mississippi. 

Attempts by black residents to gain legal or economic equality were met with threats and violence.

On the morning of his murder, Lee had come to the Westbrook Cotton Gin outside of Liberty to drop off a truck load cotton.  

There he was met by a childhood friend, Mississippi State Representative, E. H. Hurst. 

Hurst came up to the truck and started shouting at Lee.  

He then took out a gun and shot Herbert Lee in the head. 

Witnesses stated that Lee had brandished a tire iron at Hurst.

Hurst claimed self-defense.

A jury declared the murder a justifiable homicide.

Louis Allen, a black farmer and timber worker, was one who had testified about witnessing the shooting. 

Later he recanted his testimony, saying he had lied about Lee threatening Hurst because he feared for his life. 

After Allen began to talk about what he saw that day, he became the victim of harassment and beatings. 

Finally, on January 31, 1964 he too was gunned down in his driveway. 

No one was every convicted or arrested for his murder.  


September 24 Banned in Canada

September 24 Banned in Canada

September 24, 2016

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, 2016

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, 2016

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, 2016

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. 


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