This Week in Labor History
January 22
Indian field hands at San Juan Capistrano mission refused to work, engaging in what was probably the first farm worker strike in California - 1826

Birth of Terence V. Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor - 1849
 
The United Mine Workers of America is founded in Columbus, Ohio, with the merger of the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Miners Union - 1890
 
Five hundred New York City tenants battle police to prevent evictions - 1932


January 23
Some 10,000 clothing workers strike in Rochester, N.Y., for the 8-hour day, a 10-percent wage increase, union recognition, and extra pay for overtime and holidays. Daily parades were held throughout the clothing district and there was at least one instance of mounted police charging the crowd of strikers and arresting 25 picketers. Six people were wounded over the course of the strike and one worker, 18-year-old Ida Breiman, was shot to death by a sweatshop contractor. The strike was called off in April after manufacturers agreed not to discriminate against workers for joining a union – 1913

In Allegany County, MD, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal era public works program employing unmarried men aged 18-25, are snowbound at Fifteen Mile Creek Camp S-53 when they receive a distress call about a woman in labor who needs to get to a hospital.  20 courageous CCC volunteers dig through miles of snow drifts until the woman is successfully able to be transported - 1936
 
January 24
Krueger’s Cream Ale, the first canned beer, goes on sale in Richmond, Va.  Pabst was the second brewer in the same year to sell beer in cans, which came with opening instructions and the suggestion: "cool before serving" - 1935


January 25
Sojourner Truth addresses first Black Women’s Rights convention - 1851
 
The Sheet Metal Workers Int'l Association (SMWIA) is founded in Toledo, Ohio, as the Tin, Sheet Iron and Cornice Workers’ Int’l Association - 1888
 
Two hundred miners are killed in a horrific explosion at the Harwick mine in Cheswick, Pa., Allegheny County. Many of the dead lie entombed in the sealed mine to this day - 1904
(The novel Sixteen Tons carries the reader down into the dark and dangerous coal mines of the early 1900s, as Italian immigrant Antonio Vacca and his sons encounter cave-ins and fires deep below the earth’s surface. Above ground, miners battle gun thugs and corrupt sheriffs at Virden, Matewan and Ludlow in an epic struggle to form a union and make the mines a safer place to work. Historian Kevin Corley’s depiction of miners’ lives is based on his own interviews with mining families.)
 
The Supreme Court upholds “Yellow Dog” employment contracts, which forbid membership in labor unions. Yellow Dog contracts remained legal until 1932 - 1915
 
Some 16,000 textile workers strike in Passaic, N.J. – 1926

The federal minimum wage rate rises to 75 cents an hour - 1950
 
January 26
In what could be considered the first workers’ compensation agreement in America, pirate Henry Morgan pledges his underlings 600 pieces of eight or six slaves to compensate for a lost arm or leg. Also part of the pirate’s code, reports Roger Newell: shares of the booty were equal regardless of race or sex, and shipboard decisions were made collectively - 1695
 
Samuel Gompers, first AFL president, born in London, England. He emigrated to the U.S. as a youth - 1850
 
The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America is chartered by the American Federation of Labor to organize "every wage earner from the man who takes the bullock at the house until it goes into the hands of the consumer." - 1897
 
Workers win a two-day sit-down strike at the Brooklyn electric plant that powers the city's entire subway system - 1937
 
A handful of American companies announce nearly 60,000 layoffs today, as the recession that began during the George W. Bush presidency charges full-tilt toward what became known as the Great Recession - 2009
 
January 27
New York City maids organize to improve working conditions - 1734
 
Mine explosion in Mount Pleasant, Pa., leaves more than 100 dead - 1891
 
First meeting of the Int’l Labor Organization (ILO) - 1920
 
Kansas miners strike against compulsory arbitration - 1920
 
A 3¢ postage stamp is issued, honoring AFL founder Samuel Gompers - 1950
(There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America is the sympathetic, thoughtful and highly readable history of the American labor movement traces unionism from the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1820s to organized labor’s decline in the 1980s and struggle for survival and growth today.)
 
A group of Detroit African-American auto workers known as the Eldon Avenue Axle Plant Revolutionary Union Movement leads a wildcat strike against racism and bad working conditions.  They are critical of both automakers and the UAW, condemning the seniority system and grievance procedures as racist – 1969

Pete Seeger dies in New York at age 94. A musician and activist, he was a revered figure on the American left, persecuted during the McCarthy era for his support of  progressive, labor and civil rights causes. A prolific songwriter, he is generally credited with popularizing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” He actively participated in demonstrations until shortly before his death – 2014

Members of the Northwestern University football team announce they are seeking union recognition. A majority signed cards, later delivered to the National Labor Relations Board office in Chicago, asking for representation by the College Athletes Players Association - 2014
 
January 28
American Miners’ Association formed - 1861
 
First U.S. unemployment compensation law enacted, in Wisconsin - 1932



—Compiled and edited by David Prosten