Labor History in 2:00
December 20 - The Union is DISSOLVED!

December 20 - The Union is DISSOLVED!

December 20, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1860. 

That was the day South Carolina announced, “The Union is Dissolved!” 

The pronouncement was a direct response to the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln a month earlier. 

South Carolina was the first of eleven states to secede from the Union.

They were resolved to preserve their system of slave labor.  

Many debate the reasons why and will cite States’ rights or tariffs and taxes as primary causes. 

But South Carolina issued a “Declaration of Immediate Causes” just four days after its State legislature passed the Ordinance of Secession. 

According to James Loewen, author of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, this declaration opposed Northern states’ right of refusal to support slavery. 

It stated there was “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery… that the Northern states had failed to fulfill their constitutional obligations” by interfering with the return of fugitive slaves to bondage. 

South Carolinians were also upset they could no longer travel to Northern states with their slaves in tow. 

They were furious that New England states allowed black men to vote. 

The declaration complains that Northern states have “denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; They have permitted the open establishment among them of societies whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and eloign the property of the citizens of other states.

They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes: and those who have remained, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.” 

Other Confederate states would craft similar documents. 

The Civil War to end slavery would begin in Charleston, South Carolina the following April.

December 19 - Solidarity Gets the Goods!

December 19 - Solidarity Gets the Goods!

December 19, 2021

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

That was the day workers ended their ninety-nine-day strike against the Ford Motor Company in Windsor, Ontario. 

Just across the river from Detroit, workers from UAW Local 200 fought and won a union shop and dues check off. 

They had to fight hard to get it. 

The plant was organized during World War II. 

Workers put off many demands to help with the war effort.

After the war, Ford refused to agree to a new contract and laid off 1,500 workers. 

Workers voiced their rage and issued new demands. 

They wanted vacation and layoff pay, better grievance procedures and medical benefits. 

They also wanted compensation for work on Sundays and holidays. 

When Ford wouldn’t budge, 14,000 workers took to the picket line and went on strike. 

By October, they also shut down the powerhouse that brought light, heat and power to the plant. 

Management complained machinery would be damaged if the power remained off. 

The Ontario Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called in to reopen the plant. 

When they arrived, they found a barricade of some 2000 cars and trucks reinforcing the picket lines. 

Then, 8,000 workers from Amalgamated Local 195, which included Chrysler workers, walked out in sympathy, joined the picket lines and stayed out for a month. 

The women’s auxiliary organized to feed strikers. 

They had financial support from unions, churches and small businesses from across the country. 

Returning soldiers marched in solidarity rallies along with much of the community.

Because of this strong show of support, negotiations were jump-started and soon workers were ratifying a new contract.

This victory allowed what is now UNIFOR 584 to win unprecedented gains for its members for more than three decades.

December 18 - Booze Goes Underground

December 18 - Booze Goes Underground

December 18, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1917. 

That was the day that Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment, which outlawed the transportation, manufacture and sale of alcohol. 

The amendment went into effect thirteen months later. 

According to John Rumbarger, author of Profits, Power and Prohibition, the temperance movement centered on tightening social control of working people. 

Workers often met in bars and saloons to unwind after work and to socialize.

But in the days before union halls, the saloon doubled as a headquarters where workers could talk about problems on the job like mistreatment and poor working conditions.

They used the saloon as place to plan and organize strikes. 

It also served as a site for workers to talk politics and organize around political parties. 

Many prominent industrialists complained that saloons were breeding grounds for labor unrest and radical politics. 

They also feared a growing immigrant working class that tied its fate to powerful political machines in cities like Chicago, New York and Boston. 

The Anti-Saloon movement brought a strange mix into its coalition. 

It included the KKK who worried of the growing power of immigrant workers. 

But it also included Progressives who worked for labor harmony and sobriety as a means of public health.

The anti-Saloon movement also targeted German Brewers.

The United States had just entered World War I and Anti-German sentiment was so high that many considered German Brewers to be working for the Kaiser, their product a sap on the energies of servicemen and grain production to feed the US troops.

But alcohol flowed freely throughout the 20s, creating both the Jazz speakeasy and bootlegging syndicates.

It would ultimately be repealed by 1933.

December 17 - Unraveling Anti-Japanese Hysteria

December 17 - Unraveling Anti-Japanese Hysteria

December 17, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1944.

That was the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt rescinded Executive Order 9066. 

It had forcibly relocated over 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. 

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government considered Japanese-Americans a national security threat.

By 1942, many were given less than a week’s notice to sell and store all property

Whole families were rounded up and taken away to desolate areas in the West and Southwest.

Up to this point, many Japanese-Americans in California were employed in the agricultural industry, some as tenant farmers. 

They were responsible for 40% of all produce grown in that state, whose crops were valued as $40 million annually.

Over 6000 farms, consisting of 200,000 acres were confiscated. 

Once interred, they were subjected to dire living conditions with little in the way of running water, sanitary facilities or medical care. 

They were subject to forced labor in the construction of camp buildings and cultivation of near-barren lands.

The government hoped to make the camps self-sufficient. 

In Poston, Arizona, they were made to build the infrastructure for Colorado River Tribes reservation in order to consolidate other tribes onto the land. 

When Japanese-Americans were finally released, most found their stored belongings stolen and their homes, jobs and farms confiscated and redistributed. 

After the war, they continued to face violence, job and housing shortages, and racial discrimination. 

Ronald Reagan would sign the Civil Liberties Act in 1988. 

It acknowledged that internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” 

The act served as a formal apology and sought to distribute billions in reparations.

December 16 - No Justice, No Bagels

December 16 - No Justice, No Bagels

December 16, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1951.

That was the day New York City was struck by the Great Bagel Famine.

Three hundred members across thirty-two bakeries, of the Bagel Bakers of America, local 338 walked off the job over wages and working conditions.

Morris Siegal, business agent for the local, stated that the Bakers Association had been “lax in living up to the welfare-fund payments and sanitary provisions of the contract.”

The bagel bakers produced 1.2 million bagels weekly for New York City consumers.

The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle noted “the only ones welcoming this respite are the salmon.”

Diners, delicatessens, and Teamster delivery drivers were all rocked by the strike, which lasted for six weeks.

The two sides were so deadlocked that a mediator who had effectively settled a smoked salmon dispute three years earlier, was brought in to help settle the conflict. 

The bagel bakers won a $3 day wage increase and we're ready to return to work.

But the Teamsters would not begin deliveries until they were paid for lost wages due to lack of deliveries made during the strike.

The bagel bakers would engage in job actions effectively over the course of the next fifteen years until they too suffered the fate of many an industrial worker, that of automation.

Their labor would eventually be replaced by labor-saving bagel making machines by the late 1960s.

December 15 - Troops Put Down the Mothers March

December 15 - Troops Put Down the Mothers March

December 15, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1921.

That was the day Kansas National Guard troops marched into Crawford County coal fields to quell the “Mothers March.”

8000 miners went on strike that September to protest the jailing of their UMW district leader, Alexander Howat.

Howat was found guilty of violating a statewide strike injunction for calling workers out on strike in 1919.

Governor Henry Justin Allen had established a state industrial court which ruled strikes illegal.

Howat’s members considered it a new kind of fugitive slave act.

They likened their jailed leader to a modern-day John Brown.

The UMW opposed the court and the increasing number of unauthorized strikes.

Many district leaders were divided over this protest strike and chose not to support it.

The strike also divided the membership and some went back to work.

Conditions worsened after three months until the striking miners’ wives took matters into their own hands.

They met in Franklin to organize a march that would effectively shut down the mines.

Their numbers grew from 500 the first day to over 4000.

According to Benjamin Goosen, “for three days the women stormed area mines, obstructed traffic, and assaulted workers. When met with resistance, they threw red pepper at “scab” workers and overturned their lunch buckets, showering the miners with coffee and what had been intended as their midday meals.”

Four companies of National Guard troops, including a machine gun division, arrived to stop the march and break the strike.

The press derisively referred to the women as the “Amazon Army.”

Many women were arrested but mobilized their newly won voting power to unseat anti-labor politicians the next spring.

As a result, the state industrial court was ruled unconstitutional.

December 14 - Socialist Leader Daniel De Leon is Born

December 14 - Socialist Leader Daniel De Leon is Born

December 14, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1852.

That was the day Socialist leader Daniel De Leon was born in Curaçao to Dutch Jewish parents. As a young man, he traveled Europe.

He settled in New York City, and earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1878.

De Leon joined the Socialist Labor Party in 1890 and became the editor of its newspaper, The People. His book, Socialist Landmarks, consisting of a series of lectures, became wildly popular.

These lectures included Reform or Revolution, What Means This Strike?, The Burning Questions of Trade Unionism, and Socialist Reconstruction of Society.

De Leon warned of reforms under capitalism as illusory.

He argued for revolutionary socialism and soon assumed leadership of the SLP. As a former Knights of Labor, he was critical of the American labor movement, often referring to the AFL as the American Separation of Labor for its business unionism and refusal to organize any but the most highly skilled, white craft workers.

De Leon also took a strong stand against racism in the Socialist movement, stating “Why should a truly Socialist organization of whites not take in Negro members, but organize these in separate bodies? On account of outside prejudice?

Then the body is not truly Socialist.” De Leon was among the socialist leaders at the founding 1905 conference of the Industrial Workers of the World.

By 1908, he and others looked to effect social change through the Socialist Party and existing trade union movement.

This put them at odds with the direct action perspective of the IWW.

Many left the IWW at this point, including De Leon and Socialist leader Eugene Debs. When he died in 1914, more than 30,000 turned out for his funeral

December 13 - Civil Rights Activist Ella Baker is Born

December 13 - Civil Rights Activist Ella Baker is Born

December 13, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1903.

That was the day prominent civil rights activist Ella Baker was born in Norfolk, Virginia.

Her parents moved to Littleton, North Carolina when she was young. She often listened to her grandmother’s stories of slave revolts and of the brutality she endured under slavery.

Ella attended the historically black college, Shaw University, graduating in 1927.

After college, she moved to New York City and worked as a journalist.

Ella was profoundly impacted by the Harlem Renaissance and became an educator for the WPA, teaching African and labor history.

She immersed herself in the activism of the period and worked on the Scottsboro Boys defense campaign.

By 1938, she had joined the NAACP, traveling across the country to direct membership recruitment, fundraising and building of local branches.

In 1952, Ella became the president of New York City’s NAACP chapter, working for desegregation and on police brutality cases.

Baker went to Alabama to help found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott to organize voter registration drives throughout the South.

From there, she formed and led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Ella trained young, committed Civil Rights activists in a collectivist model of organizing and in participatory democracy.

By 1964, she helped to organize the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party and its fight to be seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

She was involved in the defense of activist and friend Anne Braden, then targeted by HUAC and later, the Free Angela! Movement in defense of then jailed activist, Angela Davis.

She was instrumental in founding the Third World Women’s Alliance and supported various independence movements throughout the world.

She died on her birthday in 1986.

December 12 - Striking Autoworkers Make a Stand

December 12 - Striking Autoworkers Make a Stand

December 12, 2021

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

That was the day President Truman appointed a fact-finding panel to investigate the General Motors strike.

As many as 320,000 UAW GM workers had been on strike for nearly three weeks. They had suffered deep wage cuts, deteriorating working conditions and endless contract violations during the war. UAW now demanded 30% wage increases.

But President Truman and GM acted as if it was still wartime.

Truman ordered a 30 day cooling off period to be followed by compulsory arbitration.

Just two days earlier, 10,000 strikers picketed GM, encircling their downtown headquarters for over an hour.

The CIO held an emergency conference, vowing to continue and spread the strike. CIO president Philip Murray took to the radio in defense of the strike.

He noted that corporations had made millions in wartime profits, that wage cuts since V-J Day had been as high as 50% and denounced Congress for burdensome new tax laws.

Murray added that Truman’s proposed “Fact-Finding Act” and other anti-labor laws served “to weaken and ultimately to destroy labor union organizations.”

Bob Carter, chairman of the AC Spark Plug strike committee and chairman of the Greater Flint CIO Council remarked, “I am against arbitration and will oppose the setting up of fact-finding committees.

Anyone acquainted with the labor history of this country knows that those committees are used by political stooges of the corporations to cheat workers out of their just demands.”

The strike ended in partial victory the following March, with strikers winning a 17.5% raise, just over half their original demand.

But UAW members demonstrated their solidarity and their refusal to be cowed into going back to work on the government’s terms.

December 11 - Transit Workers Railroaded

December 11 - Transit Workers Railroaded

December 11, 2021

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

That was the day streetcar workers in Kansas City walked off the job.

It was the third strike since August 1917. Workers had previously struck for union recognition and joined the city general strike that Spring.

By summer, the city was so desperate for wartime labor, the transit company began hiring women. Though women faced initial opposition, by fall, the union demanded they receive equal pay for equal work.

The company had been paying them $15 dollars less a month than their male coworkers. The Amalgamated filed charges with the National War Labor Board, demanding a general wage increase and equal wages for women.

The Board quickly ruled in the union’s favor. But Kansas City Railway refused to abide by the decision. On this day, 2675 men and 127 women walked off the job, demanding the company honor the board’s ruling. Instead the company hired scabs.

In the rush to restore service, the company failed to properly train the scab drivers and a number of streetcar crashes reduced the transit company’s fleet by 300 cars. According to Maurine Weiner Greenwald, author of Women, War and Work, the company alleged in the press that the strike was an attack against the entire community.

On the Missouri side, state militia guarded the strikebreakers while U.S. Marshals guarded rail tracks on the Kansas side.

By April 1919, “a federal grand jury indicted union leaders for obstructing a vital industry during wartime,” even though the war had been over for six months!

By May, the strike was lost and the union busted. It would take another 20 years before Kansas City Transit would finally be organized.

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