Labor History in 2:00

January 25 Solidarity for Fired Workers

January 25, 2017

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

That was the day workers at the Kent Avenue Power Plant in New York City struck at Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit.

The power plant served as the sole source of electrical power for the entire New York City subway system.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 had been trying to beat back the company’s push to form a company union through an educational organizing drive there.

Out of the 505 workers at the plant, only 35 were TWU members.

On this day, two boiler room engineers with 10 years on the job each were fired for their union activity and given 3 minutes to leave the plant.

Inspired by the Flint sit-down strike then in progress, TWU president Mike Quill called for a sit-down to protest the dismissals.

31 workers locked themselves in and Quill announced that if the two fired workers were not reinstated by 6 am the next morning, all switches would be pulled, shutting down the entire transit system.

He insisted that the BMT had long abused its workforce and was in violation of the new Wagner Act.

Newspaper headlines screamed of a workers insurrection at the power plant and the BMT quickly called in company goons to threaten the hundreds of picketers surrounding the plant. 

Workers stood their ground and prevented strikebreaking forces from breaking through the barricaded entrances.

They organized food brigades and gained support even from the newspaper reporters who helped with food deliveries.

By 5:30 the next morning, the BMT gave in to the demands of Quill and the TWU and reinstated the fired workers.

Impressed by the victory of the job action, the power plant was fully organized two days later.

 

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