Today in labor history, January 20, 1909: A mile and a half offshore on Lake Michigan, fire breaks out in a temporary water crib used to access an intermediate point along a water intake tunnel under construction for the city of Chicago. The fire spread to the wooden dormitory that housed the tunnel workers. 46 workers survived the fire by jumping into the lake and climbing onto ice floes and 60 men died in the fire or were drowned trying to escape.
Today in labor history, October 9, 2003: 3,300 workers at seventeen private sanitation companies in Chicago end their nine-day strike after winning a 28% increase in wages and benefits over the next five years.
Today in labor history, October 8, 1871: The Great Chicago Fire begins, a fire that would burn through the early morning hours of October 10. The fire injured 30 of the city’s 185 firefighters, claimed the lives of hundreds of people, left nearly a third of the city homeless, and destroyed almost 20,000 buildings.
Today in labor history, September 22, 1910: 17-year old garment worker Hannah Shapiro leads a spontaneous walkout at a Hart, Schaffner & Marx factory in Chicago. The strike quickly spread to other plants until it involved 40,000 garment workers across the city, protesting wages, hours, and working conditions.
Today in labor history, July 26, 1877: The nationwide railroad strike intensifies in Chicago, which is on the verge of a general strike. Workers battled police officers, federal troops, and state militia sent in to crush the strike in what would become known as the Battle of the Halsted Street Viaduct. At least 30 workers were killed and 100 wounded.
Today in labor history, May 30, 1937: In what would become known as the Memorial Day Massacre, police open fire on striking steelworkers, their families, and supporters who were marching to the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago to set up a picket line. The police killed ten people and pursued those fleeing the attack, wounding many more; no one was ever prosecuted.
Today in labor history, May 11, 1894: With their wages slashed and no reduction in rent at the company housing, Pullman Palace Car Company factory workers walk off the job. The workers sought the support of the American Railway Union, which gave notice in June that its members would no longer work trains that included Pullman cars. The strike and boycott crippled railway traffic nationwide and at its peak involved 250,000+ workers in 27 states.
Today in labor history, May 4, 1886: Workers rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square to protest the police shootings of striking workers outside Chicago’s McCormick plant the previous day. As the police moved in to disperse the crowd, a bomb was thrown and in the ensuing chaos, an undetermined number of people were killed and injured. Despite any credible evidence linking them to the bombing, eight anarchists and labor activists were convicted of murder; four of them were executed.
Today in labor history, February 17, 1937: Workers demanding recognition of their union occupy the Fansteel Metallurgical Corp. plant in Chicago, IL. The company fires the workers and police using tear gas and baseball bats remove them from the plant. The NLRB rules for the workers and finds that the company’s actions precipitated the strike. The case goes to the Supreme Court, which rules in 1939 that the company’s property rights trump the employees’ right to form a union, effectively making the sit-down strike illegal.