This Week in Labor History 5/14 - 5/20

labor history

May 14
Milwaukee brewery workers begin 10-week strike, demanding contracts comparable to East and West Coast workers. The strike was won because Blatz Brewery accepted their demands, but Blatz was ousted from the Brewers Association for “unethical” business methods - 1953
 
May 15
Pope Leo XIII issues revolutionary encyclical 'Rerum novarum' in defense of workers and the right to organize. Forty years later to the day, Pope Pius XI issues 'Quadragesimo anno,’ believed by many to be even more radical than Leo XIII’s - 1891

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Samuel Gompers and other union leaders for supporting a boycott at the Buck Stove and Range Co. in St. Louis, where workers were striking for a 9-hour day. A lower court had forbidden the boycott and sentenced the unionists to prison for refusing to obey the judge’s anti-boycott injunction - 1906
 
The Library Employees’ Union is founded in New York City, the first union of public library workers in the United States. A major focus of the union was the inferior status of women library workers and their low salaries - 1917
 
The first labor bank opens in Washington, D.C., launched by officers of the Machinists. The Locomotive Engineers opened a bank in Cleveland later that year - 1920
 
Death of IWW songwriter T-Bone Slim, New York City - 1942
 
Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitney reports that AFL-CIO President George Meany, Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland and other union officials are among the 60 leading stockholders in the 15,000-acre Punta Cana, Dominican Republic resort. When the partners needed help clearing the land, the Dominican president sent troops to forcibly evict stubborn, impoverished tobacco farmers and fishermen who had lived there for generations, according to Kwitney’s expose - 1973
 
May 16
Minneapolis general strike backs Teamsters, who are striking most of the city’s trucking companies - 1934
 
U.S. Supreme Court issues Mackay decision, which permits the permanent replacement of striking workers. The decision had little impact until Ronald Reagan’s replacement of striking air traffic controllers (PATCO) in 1981, a move that signaled anti-union private sector employers that it was OK to do likewise - 1938
 
Black labor leader and peace activist A. Philip Randolph dies. He was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and first Black on the AFL-CIO executive board, and a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington - 1979
 
May 17
Supreme Court outlaws segregation in public schools - 1954
 
Twelve Starbucks baristas in a midtown Manhattan store, declaring they couldn’t live on $7.75 an hour, signed cards demanding representation by the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies - 2004
 
May 18
In what may have been baseball’s first labor strike, the Detroit Tigers refuse to play after team leader Ty Cobb is suspended: he went into the stands and beat a fan who had been heckling him.  Cobb was reinstated and the Tigers went back to work after the team manager’s failed attempt to replace the players with a local college team: their pitcher gave up 24 runs - 1912
 
Amalgamated Meat Cutters union organizers launch a campaign in the nation’s packinghouses, an effort that was to bring representation to 100,000 workers over the following two years - 1917

Jerry Wurf, who was to serve as president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) from 1964 to his death in 1981, born in New York City. The union grew from about 220,000 members to more than 1 million during his presidency - 1919
 
Big Bill Haywood, a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), dies in exile in the Soviet Union - 1928
 
Atlanta transit workers, objecting to a new city requirement that they be fingerprinted as part of the employment process, go on strike. They relented and returned to work six months later - 1950
 
Insurance Agents Int’l Union and Insurance Workers of America merge to become Insurance Workers Int’l Union (later to merge into the UFCW) - 1959
 
Oklahoma jury finds for the estate of atomic worker Karen Silkwood, orders Kerr-McGee Nuclear Co. to pay $505,000 in actual damages, $10 million in punitive damages for negligence leading to Silkwood’s plutonium contamination - 1979
 
May 19
Two hundred sixteen miners die from an explosion and its aftermath at the Fraterville Mine in Anderson County, Tenn.  All but three of Fraterville’s adult males were killed.  The mine had a reputation for fair contracts and pay—miners were represented by the United Mine Workers—and was considered safe; methane may have leaked in from a nearby mine - 1902
 
Shootout in Matewan, W. Va., between striking union miners (led by Police Chief Sid Hatfield) and coal company agents. Ten died, including seven agents - 1920
(Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films About Labor: The conflict in W. Va. is the subject of the terrific film, Matewan, one of many movies included in this encyclopedic guide to 350 labor films from around the world, ranging from those you’ve heard of—Salt of the Earth, The Grapes of Wrath, Roger & Me—to those you’ve never heard of but will fall in love with once you see them.)
 
The Steel Workers Organizing Committee, formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, formally becomes the United Steelworkers of America - 1942
 
A total of 31 dockworkers are killed, 350 workers and others are injured when four barges carrying 467 tons of ammunition blow up at South Amboy, N.J. They were loading mines that had been deemed unsafe by the Army and were being shipped to the Asian market for sale - 1950
 
May 20
The Railway Labor Act takes effect today. It is the first federal legislation protecting workers’ rights to form unions - 1926
 
Some 9,000 rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio - 1933

- Compiled and edited by David Prosten.

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