Labor History in 2:00
October 31 - Happy Union Made Halloween

October 31 - Happy Union Made Halloween

October 31, 2020

On this day in Labor History ghosts and goblins are going door to door to gather up candy.  But did you know that some of that candy is made by union workers? 

In Hershey, Pennsylvania, tagged the Sweetest place on earth you’ll find the nation’s chocolate center.

It wasn’t always so sweet for workers who in 1937 tried to win union recognition. 

Then the company laid off some of the union organizers, and claimed it was due to seasonal cutbacks. 

Outraged, 600 workers began a sit-down strike in the plant. 

Local dairy farmers relied on Hershey to purchase their milk. 

They grew increasingly angry at the strikers. 

They joined with workers not participating in the strike, and other community members. 

The angry mob stormed the plant to oust the strikers. 

Twenty-five strikers were severely beaten and the sit-in strike ended. 

But the next year, the Hershey workers tried again to form a union. 

This time they affiliated with the Bakery and Confectionery Workers' International Union of America and established Local 464. 

They are not the only union members who help make Halloween sweet. 

Today the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union Local 1 in Chicago, Illinois makes tootsie rolls. 

If your candy of choice is Clark Bars or Thin Mints, you might want to thank a member of Local 348 in Cambridge Massachusetts. 

And Local 125 makes Ghirardelli Chocolate in San Francisco. 

Unfortunately things are not always so sweet. In September of 2016, 400 union workers at the Just Born candy factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania went out on strike.  The company decided to change their pensions to 401ks for new hires and reduce health care contributions. 

They make such iconic candies as Peeps, Mike & Ike’s, and Hot Tamales.  

One strike slogan rang out “no pensions, no peeps!”

October 30 - Wall Street Lays an Egg

October 30 - Wall Street Lays an Egg

October 30, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1929.

On that Wednesday morning, people across the United States woke up to newspaper headlines informing them that something had gone horribly wrong on Wall Street the day before. 

Black Tuesday, as the day came to be known had capped off a devastating drop in the market that had begun with the Great Crash the prior Thursday. 

Twenty-five billion dollars was lost in the crash, which would be about three hundred billion in today’s money. 

The crash helped spark the Great Depression that saw unemployment soared to twenty-five percent and nearly half of the banks in the United States fail. 

But the day after the crash, the news reports were not all doom and gloom. 

While Variety declared in big, bold letters “Wall St. Lays an Egg” others headlines struck a different tone. 

The New York Times wordy headline stated “Stocks collapse in 16,410,030-Share Day; But rally at close cheers brokers; bankers optimistic to continue aid.” 

The Chicago Tribune went with the more concise “Stock Slump Ends in Rally.”

Newspaper reporters attempted to explain the crash.

The Denver Post blamed the downturn on “gamblers,” the Philadelphia Evening Ledger blamed “the propagandists of gloom and economic terror” and the New York Times blamed “the reckless Wall Street speculators.” 

But many papers also attempted to quell panic over the badnews from New York. 

The Kansas City Star assured readers “once the adjustment is completed, the country will move forward to newlevels of prosperity.” 

The Nashville Banner similarly predicted “The reaction had to come, and the country will be betteroff for the lesson it has had, costly though it be.”

That costly lesson became a devastating global depression.

October 29 - Alice Doesn’t Day

October 29 - Alice Doesn’t Day

October 29, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1975. 

That was the day that the National Organization for Women, or NOW, called for a strike by women across the nation. 

They called the action, “Alice Doesn’t Day.” 

This referred to a critically acclaimed movie by director Martin Scorsese that came out the year before, entitled “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” 

The main character in the film is Alice Hyatte, who pursues her dream of being a singer after she is widowed. 

It was lauded by feminists as a story of women’s empowerment. 

NOW used the film title, and asked women to participate with the slogan “Alice doesn’t...you fill in the blank.”

Women were encouraged to participate in the day however they could, including refraining from volunteering, shopping, and if possible working for one day to demonstrate their importance to the economy. 

Women who could not skip work, were asked to wear arm bands to show their solidarity with the cause. 

In an interview published in the Chicago Tribune, NOW President Karen DeCrow explained, “There is a myth that women in the work force could go home, but if they did our economy would stop.  If all the secretaries did not come to work, all things would stop.” 

But not all women were excited about the day.

Some anti-feminist women decided to protest the day by wearing pink, baking cookies and performing other stereotypical female tasks. 

While NOW called the event a success, Time magazine deemed it “spectacular failure.” 

One critique was that the event reflected the white, middle class dominance of the women’s movement. 

Working class women, and especially women of color, had a much more difficult time withholding their labor.

October 28 - The Pony Express

October 28 - The Pony Express

October 28, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1861. 

That was the day that the Pony Express made its last run and passed into legend. 

The mail delivery service had lasted only a year-and-a-half, until it folded under competition from the newly completed transcontinental telegraph. 

The idea for a faster western mail delivery service came from the owners of the wagon freight company Russel, Majors and Waddell. 

At the time the railroad terminated in St. Joseph, Missouri. 

The goal of the Pony Express Route was to cover the 2,000-mile route from St. Joe to San Francisco in ten days—half the time of competitors. 

Riders would travel between one station and another station on horseback, switching horses as they went. 

For this arduous job, the company targeted young men, sometimes in their teens. 

The goal was to hire small men to keep the weight low for the horses. 

The riders had to sign a pledge not to drink, gamble, fight or swear. 

To back up the clean living, they were each issued a bible. 

Riders were paid a minimum of $50 per month, in addition to room and board.

The riders faced many hazards from bad weather to thieves. 

They often traveled across lands in dispute between the U.S. government and Native Americans, adding potential danger. 

The fastest Express delivery ever was Lincoln’s Inaugural address, which made it to California in under eight days.

Perhaps the most famous person who claimed to be a pony express rider, was Buffalo Bill Cody, although it is unlikely he ever carried the mail. 

He incorporated the pony express into his Wild West Show, turning the mail service into the stuff of legend

October 27 - The 1948 Donora Smog

October 27 - The 1948 Donora Smog

October 27, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1948. 

That was the day that a thick yellow fog rolled over the town of Donora, Pennsylvania just south of Pittsburgh.

Donora was a mill town, nestled in a valley on the bank of the Monongahela River.  

By 1948, the town had grown to 14,000 people, who came to work in the town’s steel mills and the Donora Zinc Works.

For years the local residents had complained about the pollution that spilled from the plants. 

Smog was a regular occurrence.

But this fog was even worse than usual. 

A layer of cold air was trapping a noxious blend of nitrogen dioxide, sulfuric acid and fluoride pollution. 

Twenty-four hours passed, and still the fog grew denser. 

The police and local doctors began to receive reports of people having difficulties breathing. 

The fog became so thick that residents could not see to drive. 

For five days the smog hung over the town, until a rain fall began to break it up. 

Nearly half of the towns’ residents became ill. 

Twenty died. 

U.S. Steel refused to take blame for the fog, even though they continued to run the plant  as the deadly toxins continued to build. 

According to a 2010 article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Despite the efforts of industry to cast the tragedy as an “act of God,” the fatalities in Donora received national attention.  The event changed the way air pollution was viewed, moving it rapidly from an aesthetic issue to a public health concern, and spurred local, state and federal officials to control toxic air pollution.” 

In 2008 a Smog Museum opened with the motto “Clean Air Started Here.”

October 26 - America’s Florence Nightingale

October 26 - America’s Florence Nightingale

October 26, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1837. 

That was the day that Louisa Lee Schuyler was born in New York City. 

She was dedicated to the causes of public health and welfare, especially for the poor.

This led her to help found the Bellevue Training School for Nurses in 1873. 

It was the first nurse’s school in the United States based on the principals of Florence Nightingale, the English social reformer who established modern nursing practices.

Louisa had become concerned with the conditions found at the city’s public hospitals. 

Along with three other women, she toured Bellevue hospital finding poor lighting, dire sanitary conditions, and even a laundry that had run out of soap. 

The women wrote up a report about their findings.

They made the case that a professionally trained nursing staff would help remedy the situation.

The work of women during the Civil War had shown the potentially important role of nurses in providing medical care. 

The women’s request was approved on a trial basis at Bellevue. 

Bellevue hospital had opened its doors in 1736, making it the oldest continually running public hospital in the United States. 

The first class of nursing students included just six women. 

Early training focused on improving sanitary conditions at the hospital and seeing to patient comfort. 

But instruction grew quickly to include basic medical training. 

By 1879 enrollment had grown to more than sixty trainees. 

Proud of their accomplishments, graduates wore a school pin. 

Designed by Tiffany & Company, the pin portrayed a crane in the middle of a wreath of poppies. 

The school operated for nearly a century, until the training program was incorporated into Hunter College.

October 25 - NY Daily News on Strike

October 25 - NY Daily News on Strike

October 25, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1990. 

That was the day that eight of the ten unions at the New York Daily News went out on strike. 

The paper had had one of the highest daily circulations in the United States.

The New York Daily News was owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Company. 

The strike began when management demanded major concessions from the delivery drivers, essentially forcing them to strike. 

Seven more unions joined them on the picket line.

In retaliation management brought in scab labor. 

This caused a ninth union to join the walkout. 

The Newspaper Guild workers had planned to honor the picket lines, but not go on strike themselves. 

But according in an article in the Los Angeles Times, “said local Guild President Barry Lipton, the editorial employees decided almost immediately at an afternoon meeting to go on strike rather than to work with any “imported scabs and goons.” 

Well known journalist Juan Gonzalez, was a strike leader for the local.

By using replacement workers, Daily News management was able to keep the paper in production. 

But they found it much more difficult to get the paper distributed. 

Even where they could make delivery, many newsstands refused to sell the struck paper. 

The New York Times blamed this on intimidation from delivery drivers. 

But they also acknowledged that some refused distribution “either out of sympathy for strikers or an unwillingness to offend pro-union customers.”

To support the strike, the unions put on a concert headlined by Lou Reed, along with Pete Seeger, Q-Tip from a Tribe Called Quest and other musicians. 

The strike lasted for five months, prompting the Tribune to sell the paper. 

Under new management the strike was finally settled. 

October 24 - Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for What We Will!

October 24 - Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for What We Will!

October 24, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1940. 

That was the day that the federally mandated 40-hour work week went into effect for U.S. workers. 

The 40-hour week had been passed as part of Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. 

Making five days of eight hour work the national standard had long been a top goal for labor. 

For decades’ union members organized, demonstrated, when on strike, and even died for the right to work eight hours.

Labor argued that reducing the long, unregulated hours of toil was a matter of worker’s health and safety. 

It was also a matter of dignity.

A more reasonable work week would give workers the time to spend with their families, to pursue other interests, and to have a full life outside of the grinding schedule demanded by many bosses.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, the eight-hour day movement declared “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!” as their motto. 

In 1886, nationwide rallies and strikes for eight hours took place on May 1st

Today, May Day is celebrated as a worker’s holiday around the world in remembrance of that struggle. 

In 1888, the American Federation of Labor took up the cause, and the Carpenters union became the standard bearer for eight hours. 

Ten years later the United Mine Workers union members won the eight-hour day. 

In 1916, the Adamson Act made eight hours the standard for interstate railroad workers. 

A decade after that, Ford Motor Company, a leader in U.S. industry established the forty-hour work week. 

Each of these victories were a step along the way to making the eight-hour day a reality and the law of the land.

October 23 - A New Voice for Labor

October 23 - A New Voice for Labor

October 23, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1995. 

That was the day that the AFL-CIO Convention convened in New York City. 

At the convention John Sweeney was elected president of the federation. 

It was the first contested election for president in AFL-CIO history. 

He ran with a slate of labor leaders, including Richard Trumka, who called themselves the “New Voice” slate. 

Sweeney was the President of the Service Employees International Union. 

He was a New Yorker, born in the Bronx.

He started his career in labor working for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, then moving to SEIU as a union rep. 

He represented SEIU Local 32B in New York City during two strikes of apartment maintenance workers during the 1970s.

In 1980 he was elected SEIU President, a post he held for fifteen years.  

Membership in SEIU nearly doubled from 625,000 to 1.1 million under his leadership.

Sweeney gave a powerful speech for his candidacy at the convention. 

He said, “Workers look at their paychecks, the political system and the public debate and wonder why nobody is speaking for me? 

Then, in fear and frustration, they look for leadership to the Rush Limbaugh’s who seek scapegoats rather than solutions for the problems of stagnant wages, corporate greed and a fractured society.” 

He pledged that under his leadership the AFL-CIO would move to commit more resources to organizing these workers. 

When he won election, Sweeney held good to his campaign promise. 

He initiated a new initiative, the Union Summer program, to involve college students in the labor movement. 

He expanded organizing efforts in the South and Southwest.

John Sweeney served five terms as AFL-CIO President.

October 22 - Pretty Boy Floyd is Gunned Down

October 22 - Pretty Boy Floyd is Gunned Down

October 22, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1934. 

That as the day that the bank robber known as Pretty Boy Floyd was gunned down by federal agents in Ohio. 

He was born Charles Arthur Floyd in 1904 in Georgia. 

His family moved to Oklahoma when he was a boy. 

Like many Oklahomans during this era, he fell on hard economic times. 

Floyd turned to crime. 

He did a four year stretch in a Missouri prison for a payroll robbery. 

When he got out, he tried to get a job in the Oklahoma oil fields. 

Unable to find work, Floyd took up bank robbing. 

He robbed banks in Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri. 

He got caught and convicted in Ohio, but escaped on his train trip to prison.

He made his way back to Oklahoma. 

There he became a folk hero. 

Locals called him the “Robin Hood of The Cookson Hills.”

Legend had it that Floyd destroyed mortgage papers when he robbed banks, winning him friends among farmers reeling from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

Floyd became a national fugitive when he was accused of killing federal agents in Kansas City.

He denied he was involved in the killings. 

  1. Edgar Hoover, head of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, named Floyd Public Enemy Number One. 

Finally, the law caught up with Floyd in an Ohio cornfield.  

His body was returned to Oklahoma, where as many as 40 thousands came to his funeral.

Woody Guthrie remembered Floyd in song. 

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