Today in labor history, July 19, 1848: The first ever women’s rights convention convenes in Seneca Falls, New York, with almost 200 women in attendance, calling for equal rights and suffrage. A local newspaper’s response: “This bolt is the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanity. If our ladies will insist on voting and legislating, where, gentlemen, will be our dinners and our elbows? Where our domestic firesides and the holes in our stockings?”
Today in labor history, July 18, 1969: A 113-day strike by hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina ends. In March, after two years of local organizing efforts, the workers established the first hospital union branch in the country, Local 1199B of the National Health Care Workers’ Union, and went on strike over discriminatory practices, unequal pay, institutional harassment, and widespread racism.
Today in labor history, July 17, 1981: 3,500 miners in the Cape Breton Island coal fields in Nova Scotia, Canada, go on strike over wages. It was the first strike since nationalization of the mines in 1967. The bitter strike was settled in October, with a tentative agreement that raised wages 50 percent over two years.
Today in labor history, July 14, 1912: Folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie is born in Okemah, Oklahoma. Author of “This Land Is Your Land,” “Worried Man Blues,” “Union Maid,” and other American classics, Woody crisscrossed the nation, living and singing among the dispossessed during the Great Depression.
Today in labor history, July 12, 1933: The Screen Actors Guild is incorporated in downtown Los Angeles in response to the film industry’s exploitation of actors, which included unrestricted hours of work, no meal breaks, unbreakable multi-year contracts, and governance over actors’ public and personal lives.
Today in labor history, July 10, 1917: The London-based Co-operative Women’s Guild mourns the death of Harriet Ann Kidd, donating a headstone for her work on behalf of working class women. Kidd began working at age 10 in the silk mills in Leek, Staffordshire, and became a life-long activist around suffrage and women’s rights at work.
Today in labor history, July 8, 1867: In response to the 1865 eight-hour day mandate for city employees, employers in San Francisco form the Ten-Hour Association. The association created the Ten-Hour League Society, whose goal was to unite all workers “willing to work at the old rates, neither unjust to the laborers nor ruinous to the capital and enterprise of the city and state, together with all Master Builders and Master Workmen and Capitalists injured by the Eight-Hour rule.” Their efforts failed and in 1868 a statewide eight-hour day law was passed.
Today in labor history, July 6, 1889: Striking laborers employed by contractors on street and sewer improvements in Duluth, Minnesota, attempt to break through the police presence protecting scabs doing their work. The police opened fire and a gun battle ensued that resulted in the deaths of four workers and a bystander; many more were seriously wounded. The state militia was called in and drove the workers back with fixed bayonets. Strike leaders were arrested and the police who participated were given gold medals.
Today in labor history, July 5, 1888: 1,500 workers go on strike at the Bryant and May match factory in London after management fires two people suspected of providing information that led to an expose about the appalling working conditions in the factory. The women and girls were subjected to fourteen-hour days, low pay, excessive fines, and the severe health complications of working with white phosphorus. The strike was quickly settled; in 1908 the British government banned the use of white phosphorus in matches.
Today in labor history, July 4, 1930: Delegates at a National Conference of the Unemployed in Chicago form the Unemployed Councils. The Councils were instrumental in resisting evictions of unemployed workers and in organizing unemployed strikes to pressure state and local governments to expand relief aid and relief work during the Great Depression.