September 7 ILWU Strong

September 7, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 2011.

That was the day hundreds of ILWU strikers blocked railroad tracks near Longview, Washington. 

They hoped to stop grain shipments from moving in and out of the EGT Grain Terminal.

Longshoremen had been sitting down on the tracks throughout the summer resulting in over a hundred arrests. 

No trains had moved in or out of the terminal since July. 

But then a federal judge issued an injunction against ILWU pickets. 

BNSF railroad tried to move grain once again. 

ILWU picketers in Vancouver were able to hold off the train until police forcibly dispersed the crowd. 

Then hundreds gathered at Longview to block the train from coming in. 

That’s when police went on the offensive. 

They used clubs and pepper spray against the longshoremen, arresting 19.

They threw ILWU president Bob McEllrath to the ground.

Rumors spread that police had broken his arm.

Hundreds of regional longshoremen rushed to Longview. 

The Seattle and Tacoma ports shut down in protest. 

The next morning, 10,000 tons of grain were opened onto the railroad tracks. 

The grain export terminal was the first to be built in the Pacific Northwest in almost 30 years. 

EGT hoped to undercut the powerful ILWU, who controlled operations at the port since its founding in the 1930s.  

The union refused to agree to work 12-hour shifts at straight time. 

The EGT hoped to break the hiring hall by refusing to recognize maintenance and inside workers at the terminal. 

Then they attempted to fill jobs with workers from the Operating Engineers. 

But the ILWU persevered. 

By the end of January, EGT backed off many of its demands, negotiations resumed and days later the contract was signed.

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September 6 Thursday, Bloody Thursday

September 6, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1934.

That was the day that became known as “Bloody Thursday.” 

Seven striking workers were shot dead and another 30 wounded at the Chiquola Mill in Honea Path, South Carolina. 

The Great Textile Strike of 1934 had started September 1. 

The twenty-two day strike spanned the eastern United States, from New England to Georgia and involved close to half a million workers. 

The main issue was the dreaded “stretch out,” increased workloads at the same or even reduced pay rates. 

Striking textile workers implemented the flying picket squad tactic employed by Minneapolis Teamsters earlier that summer. 

Hundreds drove from mill to mill to prevent scabbing. 

Mill executives across the Piedmont were stunned and terrified at the strike’s effectiveness and the workers’ militancy. 

Strikers at the Chiquola Mill had formed solid picket lines at the gate when scabs and special deputies armed by the mill’s owner, opened fire. 

All seven were shot in the back as they tried to escape the hail of bullets. 

According to a New York Times article the following day, the killings marked “the beginning of the second bloody phase of the strike as one town after another reported completion of preparations to resist the flying squads and the picketing activity of the strikers.” 

Frank Beacham, the grandson of Chiquola Mill owner and mayor of Honea Path, Dan Beacham, has worked to unearth the history of the massacre and apologize for his grandfather’s cruelty.

He notes that, as in many southern mill towns, after the strike went down to defeat, those who struck were fired and blacklisted. 

Those who retained their jobs essentially took a vow of silence never to discuss the strike or massacre again.

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September 5 The First Labor Day Parade

September 5, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1882.

That was the day the first Labor Day Parade took place in New York City. 

But whose idea was it? 

According to the late Jonathan Grossman, former historian at the Department of Labor, the first Labor Day occurred during a general uptick in working class organizing, strike activity and militancy that year.  

Peter McGuire, Carpenters Union General Secretary is often credited as the father of Labor Day. 

But others assert that Knights of Labor machinist and New York City’s Central Labor Union leader Matthew Maguire was the force behind the holiday. 

The machinist Maguire had been active in the eight-hour movement and later as a Socialist Labor Party politician. 

By the end of the decade, 400 cities nationwide celebrated the first Monday of September as “a general holiday for the workingman.”  

It was already an official holiday in most states when the labor movement started campaigning for a day of recognition at the federal level. 

Labor militants contend that by 1894, the holiday was promoted for its respectability against the more radical May Day. 

Another unanswered question remains regarding President Cleveland’s motives for signing the federal legislation. 

The widely accepted view is that Cleveland hoped to win back Labor’s vote after federal troops crushed the 1894 Pullman Strike in early August. 

But the President signed legislation much earlier, on June 28th. The nationwide boycott against Pullman cars, called by Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union, had just begun two days earlier.

Did he hope to deflate the boycott? 

What do you think? 

For many in the Chicago labor movement, the fact that both Labor Day and May Day are linked to the city’s history is a source of pride.

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September 4 Murder in Mississippi

September 4, 2017

On this day in labor history the year was 1875. 

That was the day anti-black violence erupted into a two-day massacre in Clinton, Mississippi.

As many as 2500 Black Republicans and their families met at Moss Hill, a former plantation destroyed during the Civil War.

The day was one of festivities and political speeches ahead of the fall elections.

The County Republican Party invited local Democrats to debate.

The Democratic State Senatorial candidate did address the crowd.

The editor of a local Republican newspaper and Union officer, Captain H.T. Fisher, followed him.

Soon a group of white Democrats began to heckle Fisher as he spoke. 

Republican politicians attempted to quell the growing tensions. 

Almost immediately the heckling whites opened fire on the crowd. 

Women and children fled in all directions as black Republican forces rushed to defend themselves and their families. 

By the end of the day three whites and five blacks were killed. 

Clinton’s mayor fed off rumors of black retaliation.

He called upon white paramilitary forces, the White Liners, from surrounding areas for assistance. 

Several hundred answered the call and filled the town’s streets. 

Historian Melissa Janczewski Jones notes that though heavily armed, the White Liners accompanied white locals as they rampaged door to door, looking for black Republicans to murder. 

After two days, as many as fifty black Clintonians were killed by white Democrats looking to end Reconstruction and regain political control of Mississippi.

A Senate Committee would later conclude, “The riots at Clinton were the result of a special purpose on the part of the Democrats to break up the meetings of Republicans and to inaugurate an era of terror, not only in those communities but throughout the state.”

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September 3 Progressive Miners of America Founded

September 3, 2017

On this day in labor history the year was 1932. 

That was the day the Progressive Miners of America wrapped up their founding convention in Gillespie, Illinois. 

Fed up with concessions and what they viewed as a heavy-handed, anti-democratic rule by UMW president John L. Lewis, Illinois miners met to break decisively. 

Area miners were active in radical politics and many supported currents within the Socialist and Communist movements.   

That July, Lewis opened the contract and agreed to a 20% pay cut. 

Tens of thousands of miners were furious and threw up picket lines at mines throughout central and southern Illinois.  

In Franklin County, striking miners were assaulted, shot and beaten by special deputies and strike breaking thugs. 

Many miners thought Lewis had a hand in the violence against them. 

Two miners were killed and hundreds more injured. 

By September 1, 273 delegates representing 40,000 miners resolved to break from the UMWA, form a new union, and plan immediate negotiations with coal operators. 

They drafted a constitution emphasizing rank and file industrial democracy. 

A women’s auxiliary was established, with Agnes Burnes Wieck at its head. 

It imbued union solidarity and leadership qualities among non-mining women. 

An enraged Lewis charged dual unionism but the new PMA alleged they represented ninety percent of Illinois miners. 

The split gave rise to the Illinois Mine Wars. 

Years of shootings, bombings, and assaults became almost commonplace as both unions struggled for power. 

The PMA soon faced internal fighting as conservatives attempted to wrest leadership from many of the founders.

By 1937 racketeering charges were engineered against PMA leaders and close to forty were tried and convicted. 

Though the union never dominated the industry, it continued to represent thousands of Illinois miners throughout the 20th century.

 

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September 2 ‘Protocol of Peace’ Brings Labor Peace

September 2, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1910. 

That was the day the ‘Protocol of Peace’ brought an end to the cloak makers strike in New York City. 

The garment industry had been rocked by the ‘Uprising of the 20,000’ months earlier. 

Young women had struck hundreds of small shops over pay, recognition and working conditions. 

They won ILGWU recognition in all but a handful of shops. 

60,000 cloak makers in the city were inspired to walkout of the sweatshops that July. 

The mostly male strike force demanded shorter hours and increased pay, the closed shop and more. 

Union membership soared and most of the smaller shops caved. 

The larger manufacturers would not however, and by the end of summer, the Protocol of Peace was negotiated. 

Future Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis figured prominently in the negotiations. 

The Protocol established higher wages, shorter hours and overtime pay. 

It also guaranteed the union shop, elimination of contracting and monitoring of piecework rates. 

Even more significant, workers won a Union Health Center, a Board of Sanitary Control, a Board of Grievances and a Board of Arbitration. 

For the first time, garment workers had access to health care, a way to eliminate sweatshop conditions and a way to mediate and resolve shop floor complaints.

The price to be paid however was that workers would give up their most powerful leveraging tool, the right to strike. 

The agreement was lauded as a step forward for industrial democracy. 

But soon many workers complained that the Protocol failed to answer a number of shop floor issues. 

Grievances piled up and workers were penalized when they attempted to strike to resolve their problems.

The Protocol would be scrapped for a return to militant strikes during the 1920s.

 

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September 1 Textile Workers General Strike

September 1, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1934. 

That was the day nearly half a million textile workers, from Maine to Alabama, walked off the job in a general strike. 

The United Textile Workers had launched an organizing campaign the year before. 

Within months their membership had grown from 15,000 to well over 250,000. 

Working conditions and pay were abysmal. 

The normal workweek averaged 55 hours. 

Child labor was widespread and workers were always in fear of mill closings, pay cuts and firings for suspected union activity. 

In the South, the industry had essentially been in a depression since the early 20s. 

The key issue was the ‘stretch-out”. 

Workers were routinely expected to complete an increasing amount of work at the same rate and wage. 

For a brief moment, workers hoped their conditions would change when President Roosevelt signed the Code of Fair Competition the previous summer.

It raised wages, limited hours, and prohibited child labor. 

It also allowed for union organizing.

But the mill owners maneuvered around the code effectively and the Textile Relations Board refused most workers complaints. 

Fed up, workers walked out of the mills by the hundreds of thousands. 

They used the flying squadron tactic employed by Minneapolis Teamsters earlier that year, traveling from town to town, from mill to mill, calling workers out on strike. 

Mill owners were shocked. 

Within days, strikers confronted thousands of police and scabs. 

More than 40,000 National Guardsmen were called out in 16 states.

Over the course of the strike, sixteen were killed and hundreds injured. 

After 22 days, union leaders called off the strike when President Roosevelt promised a government survey of industry conditions. 

It was an outrage, a betrayal and a defeat felt for decades.

 

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August 31 Final Battle of the Atlanta Campaign

August 31, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1864.

That was the day the final battle of the Atlanta Campaign began with the Battle of Jonesborough. 

The Union had been embroiled in a civil war with Confederate forces to end the slave labor system for three and a half years. 

It had been a difficult summer. 

Battles were increasingly bloody, with casualties on both sides numbering in the tens of thousands. 

Criticisms intensified against key Union generals like Sherman and Grant. 

Pressure mounted against President Lincoln to end the war and withdraw the Emancipation Proclamation if necessary. 

General William T. Sherman mounted the Atlanta Campaign earlier that year, in May. 

His forces scored a number of victories throughout the summer, but could not decisively defeat Confederate forces. 

By August, Northern morale was so low that the Republican National Committee deemed Lincoln unelectable. 

The Democratic National Convention, convening in Chicago, had declared the war a failure and planned to ride to victory over Lincoln in the November elections. 

But Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation was unwavering. 

And Sherman did not disappoint. 

He understood that Atlanta was, as historian Eric Foner describes it, “a key railroad hub and the communications and transportation center for the entire Southeast.” 

Sherman’s forces had been marching down from Chattanooga for most of the summer. 

Finally, they marched to the south of Atlanta to cut the last key rail line.

On this day, Union forces positioned themselves at the Flint River and at the Macon and Western Railroad. 

Over the next two days, they would successfully beat back multiple Confederate assaults, destroy the rail line and force Confederate forces to abandon Atlanta. 

The city was now fully under Union occupation.

 

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August 30 Luisa Moreno Born

August 30, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1907.

That was the day labor leader Luisa Moreno was born in Guatemala City. 

As a young woman, she fought for the admission of women into Guatemalan universities. 

After attending journalism school in Mexico City, Luisa moved to New York with her husband and worked as a seamstress. 

Outraged by low pay, racial discrimination and poor working conditions, she led organizing efforts on the job.

During the Depression she worked as a full-time union organizer, first with the AFL organizing black and Latina cigar rollers in Florida. 

But she also became active with the Communist Party and joined CIO efforts to organize cannery workers. 

Luisa led unionizing efforts of pecan shelling women workers in San Antonio, Texas and then of cannery workers in Los Angeles. 

In 1938, Luisa helped organize the Spanish-speaking Peoples Congress. 

During World War II, she fought against discrimination in hiring of Mexicans in oil and war-related industries. 

In the 1940s she became centrally involved in high profile legal defense cases of Mexican-American youth prosecuted on frame-up charges. 

These included work around the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon case and then of victims of the Zoot Suit riots a year later. 

She continued union work in California, helping to organize and represent walnut pickers. 

By 1950 she was caught in the cross hairs of the McCarthy-era witch-hunts. 

Luisa was targeted by Operation Wetback, and offered citizenship status in return for testimony against radical labor leader, Harry Bridges. 

When she refused, she faced deportation on the accusation that she had once been a member of the Communist Party. 

She returned to Guatemala and continued organizing workers throughout Central America. 

Luisa Moreno died in Guatemala in 1992.

 

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August 29 Steelworkers Strike

August 29, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1941. 

That was the day 2500 steel workers at the Pressed Steel Car Company near McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania walked off the job. 

It was the second walkout in two weeks. 

Workers effectively shut down production of armor plate for the Navy, shell forgings for the Army and railroad cars used to transport military materiel. 

The company had gone back on promises of holding a collective bargaining election. 

Steelworkers Organizing Committee sub-regional director, Abe Martin told The Pittsburgh Press that while the union had not called the strike, workers had “walked out themselves because they are fed up with the company’s discrimination against them.” 

SWOC had been trying to organize the plant for years. 

But the company had engineered an election for a so-called, independent union 18 months earlier, when the complex was only operating at half capacity. 

Workers walked out at the beginning of the month and ended their strike on the guarantee that negotiations for a new election would begin. 

But when they returned, they found that some were stripped of seniority while others were forcibly transferred to new departments.

The day before, machine shop workers on the afternoon shift were fed up and dropped their tools. 

Word spread throughout the evening and by early morning, picket lines were solid and production had come to a complete standstill. 

When the company tried to force reopening of the plant after Labor Day, 1500 workers formed picket lines at the gates to stop scabbing. 

They returned to work 10 days later in compliance with a request by the National Defense Mediation Board. 

The NLRB rejected SWOC’s election petition two months later, but SWOC persisted and won exclusive bargaining rights the following June.

 

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