Today in labor history, November 3, 2009: Nearly 5,000 transit workers represented by Transport Workers Union Local 234 begin a strike in Philadelphia over wages, pensions, and benefits. The strike shut down the city’s bus, subway, and trolley service and after six days, a five-year contract deal was reached that provided pay and benefit increases.
Today in labor history, October 3, 1967: Folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie dies at the age of 55 from complications due to Huntington’s disease. Many of Guthrie’s songs were born from his experiences and his travels with migrant workers during the Great Depression. “I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world,” he said. “I am out to sing songs that make you take pride in yourself and your work.”
Today in labor history, September 24, 1918: The Canadian government outlaws the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and other organizations. Penalty for membership was set at five years in prison. The ban on the IWW was lifted after World War I ended.
Today in labor history, September 21, 1991: 550 workers at the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas go on strike over wages and benefits. The longest hotel strike in U.S. history lasted 6 years, 4 months, and 10 days and when it was over, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals awarded the workers $3.5 million in back pay and pension credits.
Today in labor history, September 16, 2004: The Farm Labor Organizing Committee signs a collective bargaining agreement with Mt. Olive Pickle Company and its growers, ending a successful five-year long nationwide boycott. The contract – which covered workers on more than 1,000 North Carolina farms who had previously been paid piece rate and worked and lived under deplorable conditions – marked the first time a U.S. labor union represented guest workers.
Today in labor history, September 14, 1929: During the Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, National Textile Workers Union members driving back from a meeting are ambushed by a group of armed men. Organizer Ella Mae Wiggins was shot in the chest and died; five mill employees were arrested, but acquitted of her murder, despite there being 50 witnesses who saw it all in broad daylight. [Photo: Wiggins’ children stand beside their mother’s grave on the day of her funeral.]
Today in labor history, September 10, 1897: Striking immigrant anthracite coal miners raise an American flag and march on the still-open mine in Lattimer, Pennsylvania. They were met by the local sheriff and Coal and Iron Police deputies. The sheriff ordered the workers to disperse and the deputies opened fire, killing 19 and wounding as many as 49 others. All those killed in the Lattimer Massacre were shot in the back; the sheriff and 73 deputies were arrested, tried, and acquitted.
Today in labor history, September 9, 1919: 1,100 Boston Police Department officers go out on strike over union recognition, wages, and working conditions. Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the entire state militia and used his authority to fire everyone on strike, replacing almost the entire department with soldiers recently returned from World War I – at higher wages and with better working conditions.
Today in labor history, September 6, 1869: A massive fire in the only shaft of the Avondale Colliery in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania, kills 110 anthracite mine workers, making it one of the largest mining disasters in Pennsylvania history. After the disaster, the state’s General Assembly enacted legislation establishing safety regulations for the industry, making Pennsylvania the first state to enact such legislation. The law also mandated that there must be at least two entrances to underground mines.
Today in labor history, September 5, 1882: The first Labor Day is observed on this date in New York City, called for by the Central Labor Union of New York. In 1894, after sending in the Army and U.S. Marshals to break the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland sought appeasement with organized labor. Legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law by Cleveland six days after the strike ended.