Labor History in 2:00

March 31 - Hospital Workers Stand United

March 31, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1969.

That was the day Dr. Ralph Abernathy, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Charleston, South Carolina to address striking hospital workers and their supporters.

More than 400 black hospital workers at Medical College Hospital and Charleston County Hospital had walked off the job earlier in the month.

They demanded an end to racial harassment and discrimination, wage increases, union recognition and reinstatement of fired coworkers.

It was yet another instance where workers’ struggles embodied the broader social debates of the day.

Struggles for racial and gender equality as well as the rights of public sector workers to organize, especially in the South all converged in Charleston.

Workers at both hospitals sought out Local 1199, which had already organized hospital workers in New York City.

Local 1199B was soon chartered and Mary Moultrie, a licensed nurse from Medical College Hospital was elected president.

Twelve workers were fired when the new union demanded recognition.

That’s when they voted to go on strike. Picketers were met with injunctions and arrests.

The president of MCH, William McCord stated he would not “turn a 25 million dollar complex over to a bunch of people who don’t have a grammar school education.”

He and Governor, Robert McNair cited the state’s right to work law as justification for refusal to recognize the union.

The SCLC arrived in Charleston to lend its support. Speaking to 1500 workers and their supporters Abernathy linked the struggles of Local 1199B to those of meat packers and sanitation workers.

He also charged that Congress would rather spend millions on war than to “stand people on their feet in Charleston.”

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