Labor History

Labor Quote of the Day: Chris Rhomberg, in “The Broken Table: The Detroit Newspaper Strike and the State of American Labor.
“Deliberately negotiating to impasse, unilaterally imposing conditions, and breaking strikes—all of these actions destroy the function of collective bargaining…”

July 14
The Great Uprising nationwide railway strike begins in Martinsburg, W.Va., after railroad workers are hit with their second pay cut in a year. In the following days, strike riots spread through 17 states. The next week, federal troops were called out to force an end to the strike – 1877

Woody Guthrie, writer of “This Land is Your Land” and “Union Maid,” born in Okemah, Okla. – 1912
(Woody Guthrie: A Life: Folksinger and political activist Woody Guthrie contributed much to the American labor movement, not the least of which are his classic anthems “Union Maid” and “This Land Is Your Land.” This is perhaps his best-ever biography, written by bestselling author Joe Klein (Primary Colors, The Running Mate). It is an easy-to-read, honest description of Guthrie’s life, from a childhood of poverty to a youth spent “bummin’ around” to an adulthood of music and organizing—and a life cut short by incurable disease.)

Italian immigrants and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Massachusetts of murder and payroll robbery—unfairly, most historians agree—after a 2-month trial, and are eventually executed. Fifty years after their deaths the state’s governor issued a proclamation saying they had been treated unfairly and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names.” – 1921

July 15
Some 50,000 lumberjacks strike for 8-hour day – 1917

Ralph Gray, an African-American sharecropper and leader of the Share Croppers Union, is murdered in Camp Hill, Ala. – 1931

A half-million steelworkers begin what is to become a 116-day strike that shutters nearly every steel mill in the country. Management wanted to dump contract language limiting its ability to change the number of workers assigned to a task or to introduce new work rules or machinery that would result in reduced hours or fewer employees – 1959
(There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America: This sympathetic, thoughtful and highly readable history of the American labor movement traces unionism from the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1820s to organized labor’s decline in the 1980s and struggle for survival and growth today.)

July 16
Ten thousand workers strike Chicago’s Int’l Harvester operations – 1919

Martial law declared in strike by longshoremen in Galveston, Texas – 1920

San Francisco Longshoremen’s strike spreads, becomes 4-day general strike – 1934

—Compiled and edited by David Prosten

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