June 14 John L. Lewis calls for Strike

June 14, 2017

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

That was the day John L. Lewis called miners who worked for Little Steel coal subsidiaries out on strike. 

It was an act of solidarity as conditions worsened on steel strike picket lines. 

The walkout was designed to force the closure of struck mills by stopping the flow of coal.

10,000 workers in as many as 19 mines owned by Republic Steel, Bethlehem Steel and Youngstown Sheet and Tube dropped their tools.

Bethlehem had not been one of the independent steel companies initially included in the Little Steel Strike. 

But workers at its Cambria Works in Johnstown, Pennsylvania walked out in sympathy with railroad workers at Bethlehem-owned Black Lick and Conemaugh Railroad. 

They had been refused a contract.

Striking miners in Johnstown marched to Cambria Works to join the seven-mile stretch of picket lines. 

In Ohio, the Canton Federation of Labor voted unanimously for a general strike if the newly-formed ‘Citizens League” attempted to force re-opening of the steel mills.

SWOC leader Van Bittner threatened to call out another 600,000 miners by weeks end if the strike was not settled.

John L. Lewis remarked, “Labor is menaced by the force of arms of Republic Steel Corporation. Labor is calling attention to this situation so the law, government or public opinion can begin functioning before another massacre takes place.” 

UAW president Homer Martin added, “It is our purpose to spread the light of Democracy to every part of this land until autocracy and industrial slavery have been driven from the country.”

But Johnstown civic leaders and town officials had formed a Citizens Committee and prepared for battle as the miners approached. 

It seemed there was no end to the anti-strike violence.


June 13 Tony Mazzocchi is born.

June 13, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1926.

That was the day union leader Tony Mazzocchi was born. 

He is remembered as a long-time leader and international official with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union. 

Mazzocchi was a primary force behind the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. 

He was also centrally involved in the grievances Karen Silkwood brought against the Kerr-McGee Company. 

During the 90s, he worked tirelessly to establish a Labor Party as an independent political force that could truly represent working people. 

Mazzocchi was born in Brooklyn, New York to a union family. 

After fighting in World War II, he hired on at a cosmetics factory organized by the Gas Workers Union. 

He quickly emerged as a leader, fought for the rights of women workers and soon became president of his local. 

He would go on to aid in the merging of his union with Oil Workers International that created OCAW. 

Within 10 years, he had become the international’s Citizenship-Legislative Director. 

Many have noted that Mazzocchi was one of the first labor leaders to build ties with the environmental movement. 

He linked hazards in the workplace with hazards in the environment.

He showed how workers and the public shared similar concerns about health and safety. 

He pioneered the blue-green alliance that continues to advocate green blue-collar jobs, built union reading clubs and pushed his members towards social justice unionism.

Mazzocchi was a coalition builder and worked with allies for clean water and air, single payer health care, free education and just trade policies.

The United Steel Workers named their Health, Safety and the Environment Center in his honor.  

He died in 2002 of pancreatic cancer. He was 76.



June 12 Union Busting Goes to a New Level

June 12, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1936.

That was the day Remington Rand president, James Rand boasted of a new scheme.

He called it the Mohawk Valley Formula. 

It served as a blueprint for the future of union busting. 

The National Labor Relations Board called it a battle plan for industrial war. 

Workers at Remington Rand had walked out on strike against the union in late May after enduring a year of anti-union harassment, threatened plant closures and firings of top union leaders. 

The company used a number of dirty tricks during the strike to mislead and demoralize strike forces. 

In his book, The Last Great Strike, Ahmed White describes the purpose and function of the Formula: writing “The scheme figured in the Little Steel Strike, as several authorities would accuse the steel companies of patterning their response to the steel strike after Rand’s formula. It consisted of no fewer than 9 steps, all oriented to employing threatening armed forces, spies and provocateurs, company-sponsored back-to-work movements and staged re-openings to terrorize and demoralize strikers; provoke strikers to violence, and discredit them; then use the specter of violence and pretense of a “state of emergency” to mobilize opposition to the strike on the part of local police and courts; and finally announcing that the strike had been broken and that any remaining resistance was the work of an intractable minority hostile to community values and the “right to work.” 

The central insight behind the formula was that violence could be used, not only to drive workers off picket lines and paralyze them with fear, but also to turn both the law and political sentiments against unionists while justifying the employer’s own conduct and excusing its contempt for labor rights.”



June 11 Wildcat Strike at Dodge Truck Plant

June 11, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1974. 

That was the day workers at the Dodge Truck plant in Warren, Michigan went out on a wildcat strike. 

Workers were fed up with endless attacks from management and disappointing contract negotiations the year before. 

Wildcats had become almost commonplace in Detroit area auto plants the previous summer. 

Arbitrary discipline, deteriorating working conditions and frustration with the union’s response all led to the three-day walkout. 

10 days earlier, 100 workers had staged a sick-in over working conditions. 

When the company threatened firings, more workers dropped their tools.

Now four had been fired, including the second shift chief steward. 

The response was immediate. 

Within an hour, the plant was virtually shut down. 

6000 workers voted to continue the strike. 

Wildcat leaders noted that virtually all the routine antagonisms among workers, young vs. old, black vs. white, women vs. men, had melted away in solidarity. 

Socialist and anarchist workers in the plant published their recollections in a commemorative pamphlet entitled Wildcat: Dodge Truck, June 1974.  

In it they state, “We were excited by the collective decision of thousands of Chrysler employees to deny the authority of daily wage labor and, for even four days, to say no to the demands of the alarm clock, the production line, bosses, union bureaucrats, judges and cops… It was in fact, a total frustration with and rejection of, all the things, inside and outside the plant, which exercise control over our lives.” 

By the time it was over, thirty strikers had been arrested, strike leaders were branded as communist agitators by the union, and area judges issued injunctions to end the picketing.

The wildcat may have failed but workers had pushed back against management offensives.



June 10 Fighting Back Against Company Thugs

June 10, 2017

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

That was the day striking steelworkers battled back-to-work forces at Newton Steel in Monroe, Michigan.

Steelworkers were on strike against three steel companies across five states in the push to organize ‘Little Steel.’

Of the three, Republic Steel sites had experienced brutal picket line violence, especially in South Chicago. 

Republic had recently purchased Newton Rolling Mill.

Management there was bent on forcing the reopening of the plant. 

John L. Lewis promised 8,000-10,000 workers from Detroit to bolster picket lines. 

The Mayor of Monroe, Daniel Knaggs called upon all able-bodied men with military experience to enlist in a ‘citizen’s army’ to escort scabs back to work. 

Police and hundreds of deputies set up check points on the outskirts of the city to stop suspected CIO supporters from entering Monroe. 

Black SWOC organizer Leonides McDonald from Chicago had already been dragged from his car, beaten, and driven from town on foot by scabs earlier in the day. 

At the same time, Mayor Knaggs, company officials as well as SWOC and company union organizers met in the state’s capitol with Governor Murphy to negotiate a settlement. 

As they met, 200 more special police were sworn in and instructed in the use of side arms and tear gas. 

Police, deputies, and scabs armed with guns, clubs and tear gas shattered the picket line that evening. 

Then deputies seized strikers’ cars and drove them into the river! 

18 strikers were hospitalized.

Outraged UAW supporters from Pontiac declared a labor holiday in protest and headed to Monroe. 

But UAW officials ordered them to turn back in an effort to stem the anti-union violence. 

The organizing drive had been dealt another serious setback.



June 9 Workers Shutdown Power Plant

June 9, 2017

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

That was the day Consumers Power Company employees near Flint, Michigan shut off generators and turbines at the Zilwaukee power plant. 

2000 workers organizing with the Public Utilities Union under the direction of the UAW, effectively cut power to everything except hospitals, city sanitation plants and dairies. 

The company’s office workers joined the walkout, hanging a banner across the Flint District office building that read “Quit Stalling.”

The company had dragged its heels on an agreement promising union recognition, a closed shop, wage increases and an end to 24 hour scheduling of troubleshooters. 

The strike cut power to an estimated 165,000 Flint residents. 

It also forced the closing of six area General Motors plants and impacted industrial centers like Saginaw and Bay City.

The strike ended a temporary truce Governor Frank Murphy had forced between the UAW and Consumers Power, which ended a several hours long walkout at the power plant earlier in the month. 

That strike paralyzed 13 counties across the Saginaw Valley. 

When news of the second strike hit, Murphy put the National Guard on stand-by. 

He snapped orders at UAW leader Homer Martin to  “Get those lights back on! I’ll not stand by and see those people in darkness tonight!” 

Top union officials insisted the strike was unauthorized and that a tentative settlement had been reached. 

But workers demanded to see the actual terms of the agreement before they agreed to go back to work.

Though workers ratified the contract, tensions continued. 

Governor Murphy demanded that county sheriffs organize a special force to prevent future utility strikes, while the UAW vowed to curb wildcat strikes through investigation and discipline.


June 8 Tragedy in the Mine

June 8, 2017

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

That was the day the Granite Mountain and Speculator Mines in Butte, Montana caught fire, killing 168 miners. 

It is considered the worst underground hard-rock mining disaster in the nation’s history.

Just weeks after the United States had entered World War I, the demand for copper had surged.

Granite Mountain, like many of the nation’s mines, operated around the clock to meet war production needs. 

In his book, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917, Michael Punke notes the irony of the disaster, which began as an effort to improve safety. 

A sprinkler system had just been installed.

The final task was the relocation of an electrical cable. 

The cable was insulated with oil-soaked cloth, sheathed in lead. 

Workers lost control of the three-ton cable as they lowered it into the mine and it fell to the bottom of the shaft. 

Carrying a commonly used carbide-burning lamp, the night shift foreman accidently ignited the cable as he planned its removal. 

The conflagration was virtually immediate and burned for more than three days.

At the time, 415 miners were at work on the overnight shift. 

Smoke and gases quickly filled both mines. 

With no alarm system in place, those that could not escape succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1996, a memorial plaza was dedicated to those who lost their lives.

It details a slice of Butte’s mining and labor history that culminated in tragedy.



June 7 Boston Carmen of local 589 Strike

June 7, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1912. 

That was the day Boston Carmen of local 589 voted to strike.

Workers had been fighting to organize for years. 

They now demanded union recognition. 

In the months before the strike, union representatives had attempted to meet with management, with no success. 

The President of the L, in the days before it was called the T, went so far as to summarily fire 282 employees, claiming the need to maintain discipline. 

Incensed at the union-busting maneuver, workers walked off the job in the early hours of the morning. 

They began cutting trolley ropes, smashing train windows and removing handles on controller boxes. 

In an effort to bust the strike, management formed a company union.

They also brought in over 700 professional strikebreakers, and provided housing for the scabs.

Over the course of several weeks, dozens of strikers were arrested on charges that ranged from calling strikebreakers scabs to trumped-up felony charges.

AFL president Samuel Gompers visited the picket lines in a show of solidarity. 

Area labor unions provided financial and legal support.

The union filed charges with the State Board of Arbitration.

They argued management had caused the strike by firing hundreds of workers for union activity and coercing workers against joining the union.

Once the Board confirmed the union’s charges, the Governor and Mayor both pushed for resolution.

As well, Boston’s Central Labor Union threatened a general strike.

Union recognition finally came on July 28th and the first contract was signed a year later. 

Since that time, local 589 has weathered more than a century of anti-union storms as it continues to fight for better wages, hours, and working conditions.


June 6 Major Investigation for Safety

June 6, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1989. 

That was the day the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Environmental Protection Agency raided a Department of Energy facility just outside Denver, Colorado. 

Rockwell International operated Rocky Flats plutonium-processing plant on behalf of the federal government. 

From 1952 until 1989, workers there made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. 

They reported procedurally unsafe working conditions and rare forms of cancer. 

Workers also worried about disposal of radioactive material and the potential public-health threat the facility posed.

Just after 9 am. 90 FBI and EPA agents executed Operation Desert Glow, beginning their raid and investigation into potential environmental crimes at the 6000-plus acre facility. 

According to Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden:  Growing up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats, evidence collected over the course of 18 days indicated that “for more than 30 years, spills, leaks and waste disposal practices have contaminated dozens of sites around the facility. The most significant public health issue is groundwater pollution… and more than 2,640 pounds of plutonium is missing.”

The 21-month Grand Jury investigation revealed that the facility had been burning radioactive and toxic waste in an incinerator for decades, despite regulations requiring its shutdown.

It also revealed secret dumping of radioactive waste into officially closed waste ponds.

Infuriated jurors wrote their own grand jury report when they learned a plea deal had been cut, with millions in fines, but that there would be no indictments. 

Their report remains sealed. 

Rocky Flats was eventually declared a Superfund site and years of clean up began.

In 2001, congress decided to turn most of the acreage into a wildlife refugee, with park trails for hiking and horseback riding.


June 5 GM Workers take to the Picket Line

June 5, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1998.

That was the day GM workers in Flint, Michigan walked off the job.

9200 workers with UAW locals 659 and 651 had shut down a company, which at the time, accounted for one percent of the country’s economic output. 

Production at GM plants throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico all came to a screeching halt. 

Many noted that what began as a localized walkout became the most significant strike against GM since 1970. 

Management had moved dies out of the Metal Center and shipped them to operations in Canada. 

In an act of international solidarity, brothers and sisters in the CAW refused to handle the dies. 

The seven-week strike was solid against a Wall St. attack on one of the last closed shops in the country. 

The strike was also popular with autoworkers elsewhere, who confronted assembly line speedup, mandatory overtime and constant fear of plant closures. 

It inspired GM workers in Indiana, Ohio and California to strike. 

Even workers at the Tennessee-based Saturn plant, touted as a model in labor-management relations, voted to strike in response to threatened outsourcing. 

But the strike essentially ended in a standoff. 

The union had stopped GM from closing plants in Flint and Dayton, Ohio, at least for a while. 

And GM agreed to invest millions in modernizing the Flint facilities. 

But, weeks after the strike ended, GM bosses avowed more union-busting attacks. 

They declared a two-pronged strategy: First, they intended to spin off the Delphi parts division as an independent operation. 

Then, GM announced they planned to close existing U.S. plants in favor of new facilities that assembled pre-made parts, fabricated at non-union suppliers.

The war against the UAW had begun.