This Week in Labor History: 12/31 - 1/6

labor history

December 31
Sixty thousand unemployed workers rally at a Pittsburgh stadium - 1931


United Mine Workers reformer Joseph "Jock" Yablonski, his wife and daughter are murdered by hit men hired by union president Tony Boyle, who was to be convicted of the crime and eventually die in prison - 1969

OSHA adopts a grain handling facilities standard to protect 155,000 workers at nearly 24,000 grain elevators from the risk of fire and explosion from highly combustible grain dust - 1987

January 01
Emancipation Proclamation signed - 1863

Women weavers form union, Fall River, Mass. - 1875

John L. Lewis is elected president of the United Mine Workers. Fifteen years later he is to be a leader in the formation of what was to become the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) - 1920


With the Great Depression in full force, the year 1932 opens with 14 million unemployed, national income down by 50 percent, breadlines that include former shopkeepers, businessmen and middle-class housewives. Charity is overwhelmed: only one-quarter of America’s unemployed are receiving any help at all - 1932

Workers begin to acquire credits toward Social Security pension benefits. Employers and employees became subject to a tax of one percent of wages on up to $3,000 a year - 1937

Adolph Strasser, head of the Cigar Maker’s Union and one of the founders of the AFL in 1886, died on this day in Forest Park, Ill. - 1939


Members of the Transport Workers Union and Amalgamated Transit Union working for the New York transit system begin what is to be a successful 12-day strike. Fiery TWU leader Mike Quill, jailed for several days during the strike, then hospitalized, died three days after his release from the hospital - 1966

The federal minimum wage rises to $2.65 an hour - 1978

Int’l Typographical Union, the nation’s oldest union, merges with Communications Workers of America - 1987

United Furniture Workers of America merges with Int’l Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried & Machine Workers to become Int’l Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine & Furniture Workers, now a division of CWA - 1987

National Association of Broadcast Employees & Technicians merges with Communications Workers of America - 1994

Int’l Union of Allied & Industrial Workers of America merges with United Paperworkers Int’l. Later merged into the Steelworkers - 1994

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) takes effect, despite objections by labor - 1994

Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers Int’l Union merges with American Federation of Grain Millers to form Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers Int’l Union - 1999

January 02
Conference of industrial unionists in Chicago leads to formation of IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as Wobblies - 1905


In what became known as Palmer Raids, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer arrests 4,000 foreign-born labor activists. He believed Communism was “eating its way into the homes of the American workman,” and Socialists were causing most of the country’s social problems - 1920

An underground explosion at Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W. Va., traps 12 miners and cuts power to the mine. Eleven men die, mostly by asphyxiation. The mine had been cited 273 times for safety violations over the prior 23 months - 2006

January 03
The ship Thetis arrives in Hawaii with 175 Chinese field workers bound to serve for five years at $3 per month - 1852


Wobbly Tom Mooney tried in San Francisco for Preparedness Day bombing - 1917

In a familiar scene during the Great Depression, some 500 farmers, Black and White, their crops ruined by a long drought, march into downtown England, Ark., to demand food for their starving families, warning they would take it by force if necessary. Town fathers frantically contacted the Red Cross; each family went home with two weeks’ rations - 1931

The Supreme Court rules against the closed shop, a labor-management agreement that only union members can be hired and must remain members to continue on the job - 1949

AFL-CIO American Institute for Free Labor Development employees Mike Hammer and Mark Pearlman are assassinated in El Salvador along with a Peasant Workers’ Union leader with whom they were working on a land reform program - 1981

January 04
Angered by increasing farm foreclosures, members of Iowa's Farmers Holiday Association threaten to lynch banking representatives and law officials who institute foreclosure proceedings for the duration of the Great Depression - 1933

What many believe to be the longest strike in modern history, by Danish barbers’ assistants, ends after 33 years - 1961

Eight thousand New York City social workers strike, demand better conditions for welfare recipients - 1965

United Paperworkers Int’l Union merges with Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Int’l Union to form Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers Int’l Union, itself later to merge with the Steelworkers - 1999

January 05
The nation’s first labor convention of Black workers was held in Washington, D.C., with 214 delegates forming the Colored National Labor Union - 1869

Ford Motor Company raises wages from $2.40 for a 9-hour day to $5 for an 8-hour day in effort to keep the unions out - 1914


Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins. Ten of the 11 deaths on the job came when safety netting beneath the site—the first-ever use of such equipment—failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen other workers were saved by the net over the course of construction. They became members of the (informal) Halfway to Hell Club - 1933

January 06
The Toronto Trades and Labour Council endorses the principle of equal pay for equal work between men and women - 1882

Eight thousand workers strike at Youngstown Sheet & Tube. The following day the strikers’ wives and other family members join in the protest. Company guards use tear gas bombs and fired into the crowd; three strikers are killed, 25 wounded - 1916

-Compiled and edited by David Prosten.

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