Created with Sketch.
Labor History in 2:00
2 minutes | Jul 23, 2021
July 23 - The 1913 Michigan Copper Miners Strike Begins
On this day in labor history, the year was 1913. That was the day 9,000 copper miners in the Keweenaw region of Upper Peninsula, Michigan went on strike. Organized by the Western Federation of Miners, the strike raged on for over eight months, witnessed devastating tragedy in a Christmas Day fire and ended in bitter defeat. The strike was waged over basic issues like the eight-hour day, higher wages, mine safety and union recognition. But strikers were also fed up with the company’s paternalism and intrusion into their personal lives. They also worried for their jobs with the introduction of labor saving machinery. The WFM succeeded early on in shutting down the mines. But the copper barons wouldn’t budge. By August, many mines reopened with scab labor. Later that month, deputies shot two strikers dead and wounded two others, as they returned home from attempting to collect strike benefits. The incident became known as the Seeberville massacre. Striking miners were absolutely devastated when on Christmas Day, 73 people, mostly children, were trampled to death during a Christmas party and benefit at the Italian Hall in Calumet. Witnesses remembered seeing a man with a Citizens Alliance button just moments before someone yelled ‘Fire!’ that caused the stampede. Soon after the Italian Hall disaster, WFM president Charles Moyer was shot by a Citizens alliance mob, then loaded, bleeding, onto a train bound for Chicago. By April, the union was broke, the strike was broken and miners resolved to return to work. Bosses would only rehire strikers once they had turned in their union cards. The copper mines in the region would finally be organized some 30 years later in a campaign led by Mine Mill during the years 1939 to 1943.
2 minutes | Jul 22, 2021
July 22 - Preparedness Day Bombing
On this day in labor history, the year was 1916. That was the day a bomb rocked the Preparedness Day parade in San Francisco, killing 10 and injuring at least 40. The Chamber of Commerce and the newly formed Law and Order Committee organized the parade to shore up support for war production and eventual entry into World War I. But isolationist sentiment in San Francisco remained strong. Anti-war activists prepared pamphlets and protests for the march. Many trade unionists were opposed to entry into the war. Some considered the parade a response to the combative longshoreman’s strike raging on the docks for weeks. San Francisco had been a strong union town for years, known for strikes and labor disputes. 1916 was an election year and already, the city had been rocked by a number of strikes. Business interests launched an open shop campaign and began targeting labor radicals. They found their scapegoats in labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, who were framed and convicted for the bombings. Journalist Carl Nolte points out that Mooney and his assistant had been trying to organize workers at the city’s largest streetcar company, United Railroads. He notes their convictions were based on perjured testimony and doctored evidence. Incredibly, one of the prosecution’s star witnesses wasn’t even in town that day! But the convictions served to vilify labor militants as terrorists. Fremont Older, editor of two local newspapers, discovered the frame-up evidence. He and many others, including Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow campaigned for years to free the two men. They were finally released after 22 years, in 1939. The actual bombers were never found, though some have speculated that Anarchists of the Galleanist movement were likely responsible.
2 minutes | Jul 21, 2021
July 21 - The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 Erupts
On this day in labor history, the year was 1877. That was the day that some of the worst violence of the Great Railroad Strike erupted in Pittsburgh. The strike started days earlier. It is contested as to whether it began in Martinsburg, West Virginia or Baltimore. The strike spread rapidly along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to New York State, Pennsylvania and throughout the Midwest. At its height, the Great Railroad Strike involved well over 100,000 workers. The strike began on the Pennsylvania Railroad on the 19th. Management repeatedly tried to move trains through the yards and was confronted by angry strikers. Pennsylvania Guardsmen were called out. The strikers presented the railroad with their demands: they wanted an end to double engine trains that required fewer workers, wages reinstated, reinstatement for their fired coworkers and an end to pay grades. Local militia sided with the strikers and refused to show for duty. When thousands of strikers gathered at the depot, the Pennsylvania National Guard moved unsuccessfully to disperse them. Then they fired on strikers, killing 20 and wounding 29. The strikers were infuriated by the deadly aggression and drove guardsmen into a nearby railroad roundhouse. Word spread quickly throughout the city of the massacre, launching a virtual general strike. Workers began seizing arms wherever they could find them. They set fires to dozens of railroad buildings, burned down the Union Depot, destroyed over 100 locomotives and more than 1000 freight and passenger cars. The next day, guardsmen shot their way out of the roundhouse, killing 20 more as they were chased from the city. A total of 3000 federal troops would be necessary to quell strikers’ fury by month’s end.
2 minutes | Jul 20, 2021
July 20 - Bloody Friday
On this day in labor history, the year was 1934. That was the day that came to be known as Bloody Friday. Minneapolis Teamsters had been on strike for three days in their third strike of the year. The trucking bosses had reneged on their May settlement. They refused to recognize union organization of inside workers. In the period between strikes, the union had documented hundreds of cases of discrimination. Now, 7,000 Teamsters effectively shut down trucking throughout the city. Local 574 leaders established a daily strike bulletin. The Organizer, as it was called, would serve to guide strikers to victory. In his book, Revolutionary Teamsters, historian Bryan Palmer notes that the first few days of the strike had been quiet. Then on this day, police attempted to break the picket lines by running what seemed to be a lone scab truck through the lines. It was later discovered the truck was moving no merchandise, but was used to draw strikers into a confrontation. When flying pickets moved to stop the truck, they were ambushed. Police opened fire on unarmed pickets and then sprayed those who attempted to escape with buckshot. At least 48 were wounded. Striker Henry Ness and Unemployed Council supporter John Belor were killed. Palmer notes that Ness had been shot point blank in the chest. Doctors pulled 38 slugs from his body. “His death bed injunction repeated word of mouth among the strikers: “Tell the boys not to fail me now.” More than 40,000 turned out to pay their respects to the World War I veteran and father of four. Palmer adds that, “Bloody Friday had lasted a matter of minutes. But its’ meaning would leave a mark on the very fabric of Minneapolis socio-economic relations…”
2 minutes | Jul 19, 2021
July 19 - The ‘34 General Strike in San Francisco Winds Down
On this day in labor history, the year was 1934. That was the day San Francisco’s Central Labor Council voted narrowly to end the general strike, then in its fourth day. It had been one of three historic strikes that turned the tide towards industrial organizing in the 1930s. It emerged as part of the ongoing longshoreman’s strike, which started in May. The decision was controversial. Longshoremen and seamen raged that leadership of the strike had been torn from them by more conservative elements. As author of Workers on the Waterfront, Bruce Nelson puts it, “after two and a half months on strike, literally thousands of arrests, at least six deaths and hundreds of serious injuries, the men and their families were holding the line. But their allies were gradually cutting the ties of solidarity that had been the strike’s lifeblood.” The shipping bosses forced a vote for arbitration from the longshoremen, and withoutthe seamen. As Nelson notes, this served to drive a wedge between the two unions, creating a rift that would only deepen. The two would continue to strike until the end of July. But the strike left longshoremen emboldened. They pushed back on the job, driving off scabs and establishing work rules and conditions ahead of the arbitrator’s ruling, which came in October. The hiring hall was finally established. While it was decided that the union and the shipping bosses would rule the hall jointly, the union controlled the position of dispatcher. This meant the union determined hiring, which put an end to the despised ‘shape-up.’ The award also mandated wage raises and a coast-wide contract. It would serve as a catalyst for the founding of the ILWU three years later.
2 minutes | Jul 18, 2021
July 18 - Striking for Dignity
On this day in labor history, the year was 1969. That was the day hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina won union recognition. The 113-day strike reflected all the broader social issues of the day. Led primarily by black women, the strike at the Medical College, Charleston County and several other hospitals intersected civil rights and racial and gender discrimination on the job. Jewel Charmaine Debnam notes that women like Local 1199B president Mary Moultrie, Naomi White and others were “essential to the strike not only as daily participants on the picket line but also as leaders of the local movement establishment.” For months, strikers marched, walked picket lines, clashed with police and held vigils demanding their right to organize. They defied injunctions and endured hundreds of arrests, nightly curfews and confrontation with the State National Guard. Governor McNair and the hospital boards had initially refused to concede to the workers’ demands for union recognition. They claimed workers paid with public funds could not engage in collective bargaining. But the women were steadfast. They pointed to the wage disparities between black and white workers and between male and female workers. They also protested the blatant disrespect and discrimination meted out daily by management. Local longshoremen solidarized with the strikers and threatened a walkout in support if their demands were not met. Coretta Scott King and many other Civil Rights leaders also played a supportive role. Finally, the new union won reinstatement of fired workers, which had touched off the strike, a solid grievance procedure, a minimum wage raise and access to the credit union. Victory would be short lived however when the State almost immediately refused to hold up its end of the agreement.
2 minutes | Jul 17, 2021
July 17 - Lumber Workers Put Down Their Axes
On this day in labor history, the year was 1917. That was the day 50,000 lumber workers across the Pacific Northwest participated in an industry-wide strike, called by the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW had been organizing loggers for years around wages, hours, working conditions and camp sanitation. The IWW began building for the strike in the aftermath of the Everett Massacre the previous fall. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn started touring camps in Idaho. By March, the Wobblies established Local 500 of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union in Spokane to organize actions across the region. In his book, Empire of Timber, historian Erik Loomis details the chronology of events that led to the momentous walkout. In Idaho, loggers began walking off the job in April, when demands for improved bunkhouses and food, higher wages and the eight-hour day were refused. The strike spread to Washington State, the rest of Idaho and into Montana and Oregon. Loomis notes that by August, “they made employers feel their wrath.” The strike cut production by over 80% and threatened war materiel. Infuriated timber bosses demanded federal troops be sent in to crush the strike and IWW leaders be prosecuted for treason and sabotage. Raids and arrests were orchestrated throughout the Pacific Northwest and the strike began to stall. After 10 weeks, the IWW called off the strike but instructed workers to quit work after eight hours. They continued to lead sanitation-related job actions that would substantially change conditions for the better.
2 minutes | Jul 16, 2021
July 16 - Bloody Thursday
On this day in labor history, the year was 1934. That was the day fatalities on Bloody Thursday touched off a four-day general strike in San Francisco. It was the first time a general strike had shut down a major U.S. port city. The strike had been raging since May. Workers battled with police days earlier as the shipping bosses tried to force open the docks. Two workers were killed. More than 40,000 poured into Market Street to march silently in their funeral procession. Outrage fueled plans for a general strike. Twenty-one unions across the city voted to walk. In his book Strike!, Jeremy Brecher notes the momentum for a general strike was unstoppable, despite attempts by AFL leaders to prevent it. By 8 a.m. on this day, the San Francisco General Strike began. Over 150,000 workers including teamsters and butchers, restaurant and transit workers joined longshoremen and seafarers in shutting down the ports, the city and the highways. But as Brecher points out, the strike was met with a powerful counter-attack. Hundreds of special deputies were sworn in. The National Guard was called out, “complete with infantry, machine guns, tank and artillery units; state officials were poised on the edge of declaring martial law.” Vigilante raids began on the 17th, with assaults on the Marine Workers Industrial Union and the offices of the Western Worker newspaper and strike bulletin. Many other gathering places and homes where strikers regularly met were also busted up. Hundreds were rounded up, beaten and arrested. The city’s Central Labor Committee authorized exceptions that eroded the strike’s power. In the face of violent raids and opposition from AFL leaders, the General Strike Committee voted to end the strike.
2 minutes | Jul 15, 2021
July 15 - The 1959 Steel Strike
On this day in labor history, the year was 1959. That was the day half a million steel workers walked off the job in a historic, 116-day strike to defend work rules. It was the largest industry-wide strike and also the last. The strike affected 12 steel companies and shut down more than 85% of steel production. Mill owners refused to grant wage increases unless the union agreed to changes in the contract. Specifically, they were looking to eliminate Section 2 (b), titled “Local Working Conditions.” The bosses wanted the ability to change the number of workers assigned to any given task. They also wanted to introduce machinery and rules that would reduce labor hours and cut the work force. USWA members understood this as an assault on workplace safety and a move to break the union. Mill bosses hoped that a long strike would provoke the membership to abandon their union. But, according to Jack Metzgar, author of Striking Steel, members had grown used to walkouts every 3 years and planned accordingly. As well, the USW had a “well-oiled machinery including an internal welfare system for hardship cases and also reached out to merchants, banks, charitable agencies, and local and state governments” to organize relief. By the end of August, the Defense Department stoked anxieties that national security was at risk. Three months into the strike, union funds dwindled. Strikers felt the pinch. President Eisenhower invoked a Taft-Hartley injunction, hoping to force strikers back to work. As the union rose to challenge Taft-Hartley’s constitutionality, solidarity among the mill owners crumbled. Kaiser Steel broke ranks and settled separately. Their contract granted wage increases and preserved section 2(b). It set the precedent for the contract that was eventually signed industry-wide.
2 minutes | Jul 14, 2021
July 14 - The Summer of Public Sector Strikes
On this day in labor history, the year was 1978. That was the day municipal workers in Cleveland, Louisville and Philadelphia walked off the job. That summer was rocked with public sector strikes, starting with a firefighters strike in Memphis. In Cleveland, municipal services came to a virtual halt as city workers honored a police work stoppage. In Louisville, firefighters walked off the job, after the Kentucky Labor Relations Board found the city guilty of unfair labor practices. And in Philadelphia, 20,000 AFSCME members, including sanitation, highway and health department workers rejected a last minute contract offer. They demanded wage increases. But they were also furious when the city announced it would have to lay off city workers to pay an arbitration award to the police. Sanitation strikes soon followed in New Orleans, San Antonio, Detroit and Tuscaloosa. By the third week of July, transit workers in Washington DC staged a wildcat strike, as did postal workers in California and New Jersey. Labor historian Joseph McCartin notes that public sector strikes peaked in 1975 and again in 1978. By the late 70s, “the volatile recipe of rising public sector union militancy, inflation and anti-tax reform made public sector unions more vulnerable than at any other time. Suddenly the union became a convenient scapegoat for public officials dealing with declining relative tax revenues, demands for improved public services and taxpayer unrest.” McCartin adds that by 1978 public employers came out swinging in labor disputes. Public sector unions would struggle to “hold their own in an increasingly hostile environment…as their ability to strike was being severely eroded.” The backlash against public sector militancy set the stage for President Reagan’s smashing of PATCO just 3 years later.
2 minutes | Jul 13, 2021
July 13 - Striking News in Detroit
On this day in labor history, the year was 1995. That was the day 2500 pressmen, reporters, drivers and clerks went on strike against the Detroit News and the Free Press. Both newspapers had created a virtual monopoly in 1988 by merging their advertising and circulation departments into the Detroit Newspaper Association. Even as the DNA raked in record profits, they forced years of concessions, including wage freezes and lay offs. When the Association implemented a merit raise system, the Newspaper Guild voted to strike. Five other unions, including CWA and Teamsters soon followed. The newspapers were ready. Just before the strike, they cut off the dues check-off. They also contracted with the company, Alternative Work Force, to provide scabs. And they hired private security guards from Huffmaster and Vance International to enforce the scab herding. A solid union boycott cut revenues for both newspapers. On August 19, hundreds of strikers stopped scabbing until police attacked the picket lines, breaking arms and arresting at least four. Then, on Labor Day weekend, thousands of strikers and supporters successfully repulsed police forces amassed from across the state to break up picket lines. By mid-September, both newspapers were forced to airlift the Sunday edition until strikebreaking injunctions limited pickets. Over a hundred had been arrested over the course of several weeks. Unable to stop production, strikers gradually returned to work until the strike was finally called off in February 1997. In his two volume set, Workers in America, Robert Weir notes that many labor activists criticized strike tactics. They argued direct action to stop production should have been the priority rather than boycotts and political pressure. Once the strike ended, the DNA claimed all but a few had forfeited their jobs.
2 minutes | Jul 12, 2021
July 12 -The ILGWU Comes to Tupelo
On this day in labor history, the year was 1937. That was the day newspapers throughout the South announced the return of Ida Sledge to Tupelo, Mississippi. The ILGWU organizer had been leading unionization efforts at three area mills. Twice she was driven out. Prominent businessmen “invited” her to leave town just days earlier, warning her not to return under threat of violence. Earlier that spring, workers held a sit-down strike at the Tupelo Cotton Mill. They demanded higher wages and shorter hours in the town’s first labor action ever. The mill’s stockholders responded by voting to liquidate. Sledge immediately filed charges with the NLRB against the mills for violating the Wagner Act. Now, newspapers reported a tense atmosphere in Tupelo with Sledge’s return. She stated, “I don’t mean to cause any trouble. I intend to organize the garment workers and don’t propose to be scared away.” The citizens committee soon declared victory, claiming they had organized 1000 workers at five plants into ‘independent,’ ‘home’ unions. Sledge condemned these as company unions. By the end of the month, Democratic Representative of Mississippi, John Rankin thundered, “these representatives of the so-called Labor Relations Board boasted they were going to close every factory in the city before they quit and that when they got through with it, there would be no Tupelo left.” The following spring, local organizer Jimmy Cox was taken outside of town and flogged by 15 men. Sledge was again threatened and driven away permanently. The mill owners finally relented in August as the NLRB trial loomed. They disbanded their company unions, reinstated fired workers with back pay and posted notices they would not interfere with organizing efforts. But the ILGWU never gained much from their organizing efforts.
2 minutes | Jul 11, 2021
July 11 - The Little Steel Strike Begins to Collapse
On this day in labor history, the year was 1937. The Little Steel Strike was beginning to collapse. Strikers in Massillon, Ohio had gathered that Sunday night at union headquarters across from Republic Steel’s Massillon Works. As Ahmed White describes in his book, The Last Great Strike, the union had organized weekly festivities on Sunday nights, including food, live music and dancing. For weeks, the Law and Order League had repeatedly demanded special police be deputized and armed to crush the strike. By early July, Ohio National Guardsmen ensured the forcible reopening of the mill. One self-appointed special deputy leader, Major Curley decided tonight would be the night he was going to “clean out that God Damned hall.” He provocatively positioned his deputies in front of union headquarters. First he ordered his deputies to fire on picketers attempting to block the gate at shift change. When strikers hurled bottles and rocks in response, the deputies unleashed massive rounds of gunfire and tear gas for more than half an hour. Guardsmen, railroad and company police joined in the anti-SWOC siege. Two strikers were dead. Nick Valdos was shot in the hip as he attempted to aid wounded strikers. Fulgencio Calzara was shot in the back of the head in front of union headquarters. Another seven strikers were shot and seriously wounded. At least four more were hospitalized with injuries. Police forces ransacked the hall, seizing union records and membership lists. They continued their rampage through the neighborhood, ransacking homes and arresting anyone suspected of ties to the union. As many as 165 were arrested and held for several days. As White notes, the NLRB and the LaFollette Commission both concluded that blame for the evening’s violence lay with Republic.
2 minutes | Jul 10, 2021
July 10 - Organizing During Wartime
On this day in labor history, the year was 1918. That was the day machinist John Connolly was fired from General Electric’s sprawling River Works in West Lynn, Massachusetts. Firings of several more labor activists prompted 14,000 workers, 40% of them women, to walk off the job and flood the ranks of the IAM and the IBEW. The newly established War Labor Board emboldened GE workers. They looked to the board for help in beating back yellow dog contracts and to organize bonafide unions. A Metal Trades Council had finally been established at the GE plant in Schenectady, NY. Workers hoped to do the same at Lynn. After Connolly’s discharge, GE managers fired another fourteen activists three days later. As Joseph McCartin describes in his book, Labor’s Great War, thousands of outraged workers met the evening of the firings and determined there was nothing left to do but strike. The walkout began the following Monday. David Montgomery describes the scene in The Fall of the House of Labor: “Early in the afternoon, union sound trucks outside the building blared fighting songs and calls to down tools. Within an hour, the GE river works were empty.” The strike lasted three weeks. In that time, strikers defeated attempts at arbitration, demanding the Board rule on their behalf as it had done for GE workers in Schenectady. In October, the board adjusted wages, ordered reinstatement of all but two of the fired workers and established minimum pay for women. It also ordered the election of shop committees. Lynn River Works was now 95% organized. Victory was short-lived however. In the post-war period, unions at GE and elsewhere were summarily defeated by vigorous open shop drives across the country.
2 minutes | Jul 9, 2021
July 9 - Organizing ALL of NYC Transit
On this day in labor history, the year was 1935. That was the day transit workers in the Bronx walked off the job in what is referred to as the Squeegee Strike. These were the days when New York City public transit was barely organized. Two of the three transit companies in New York City were privately owned, with entrenched company unions. Up to this point, transit bosses had successful crushed every previous strike. Now, six car cleaners at the Jerome Avenue barn had just been fired for refusing a management imposed speed-up. Supervisors had replaced their 10-inch squeegees with those that measured 14 inches. They expected workers to clean more in a shorter period of time. According to historian Joshua Freeman, author of In Transit, when word spread that the six cleaners had been fired, others downed their tools in protest. They demanded unsuccessfully to meet with the shop foreman. After several hours of waiting, they discovered that management had removed their time cards. That’s when the two-day walkout began. As many as seventy workers stormed off the job. Pickets went up at the barn and at Interborough Rapid Transit Headquarters. The regional NLRB office quickly mediated a settlement that forced the IRT to reinstate the discharged workers and strikers, and answer their grievances. Freeman notes this first strike, though small in scale and brief, was significant. The victory of the Squeegee Strike immediately built the TWU’s authority citywide. It quickly brought several hundred new members into the union. New dues paying members provided a financial base for full-time organizers needed to organize New York City transit. The union would grow rapidly and soon enjoy a number of organizing victories.
2 minutes | Jul 8, 2021
July 8 - WPA Building Trades On Strike
On this day in labor history, the year was 1939. That was the day AFL president, William Green called all affiliates to meet in Chicago. Green sought to mobilize union leaders in a fight to restore prevailing wages on federal relief projects. Building tradesmen on WPA construction sites had started walking off the job in spontaneous strikes across the country three days earlier. The strike spread rapidly to 36 states, quickly turning into a nationwide walkout of over 150,000. Workers were outraged by provisions in the latest federal relief bill, titled the Woodrum Act. New terms established the 130-hour rule, essentially slashing wages by more than half. It also called for a 30-day dismissal of all workers who had been on WPA rolls for 18 months. The AFL Building Trades Department stated the act would “destroy national wage standards established through 50 years of collective bargaining.” IBEW leader Daniel Tracy added that forcing a lower wage on federal relief workers would only aid building contractors in private industry to do the same. From St. Louis to Rochester, from Minneapolis to Akron, picket lines were solid. Organizers worked to build solidarity among unskilled WPA workers affected by the new starvation bill. Tens of thousands of strikers were fired in WPA-ordered dismissals. President Roosevelt declared there could be no strikes against the federal government. Attorney General Frank Murphy, former Michigan governor during the Flint sit-down strike, declared that striking against the government would build a fascist psychology. WPA administrators also threatened organizers with federal prosecution, fines and jail time. But New York’s Building and Construction Trades Council leader, Thomas Murray authorized a strike of 32,000. He avowed, “This will be a strike to the finish.”
2 minutes | Jul 7, 2021
July 7 - State Militia Confronts Pullman Strikers
On this day in labor history, the year was 1894. That was the day thousands of Pullman strikers confronted state militia forces at the Grand Trunk Railroad Crossing in Chicago. The strike began May 11 after George Pullman slashed wages but refused to lower rents in his company town. In late June, Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union called for a national boycott of all Pullman trains. The boycott spread to 27 states, involving more than 150,000 workers. Attorney General Richard Olney issued an injunction, declaring the strike illegal on July 2. The injunction failed to break the strike. But it did prevent union leaders from communicating with strikers. The next day, President Cleveland ordered troops into Chicago rail yards to crush the strike. Workers were furious. They flooded the yards, stopping trains, smashing switches and barricading themselves with baggage cars. Fighting continued for several days as angry strikers stormed rail yards and overturned empty freight cars. Thousands of workers impacted by the Depression joined in, including those stranded in the city after the Columbian Exposition. Two strikers were shot dead on the Illinois Central railroad July 6. Workers responded by setting fire to hundreds of rail cars. Now, on this day, the militia attempted to run a work train, to clear the rail yard at 49th and Loomis. Thousands followed the train, showering it with bricks and stones. The troops returned gunfire, killing at least four and injuring dozens. Chicago unions soon voted in favor of a citywide sympathy strike, but the railroads quickly hired replacement labor. Federal troops and state militia cleared the railways for business. Main strike leaders were arrested. By the beginning of August, Pullman rehired only those strikers who agreed never to join a union.
2 minutes | Jul 6, 2021
July 6 - Industrial Murder in the North Sea
On this day in labor history, the year was 1988. That was the day 167 oil workers were killed in the Piper Alpha oilrig explosion in the North Sea. It is considered the world’s deadliest oilrig accident ever. Around 10 p.m., the platform essentially turned into a fireball so massive, rescue helicopters couldn’t get near it. Gas lines ruptured when the night crew accidentally activated a gas pump, down for repairs. Immediately, the platform was rocked with explosions, first wiping out the control room, then engulfing it in flames. The platform split in two, its oil derrick toppled. Most were killed instantly, as the crew quarters were directly above the gas compression module. Toxic fumes overcame others. Some jumped 100 feet into the sea. The platform was completely destroyed. It took three weeks to bring the fire under control. Occidental Petroleum later admitted the rig’s design was fundamentally flawed. But many considered the explosion nothing short of industrial murder. The rig was notorious for fatalities and near misses. Jake Malloy, head of the offshore trade union, OILC recalled, “Piper was synonymous with accidents. People would say Piper? Oh, you don’t want to go there. That place is ready to go.” Conditions were so bad the union pulled its reps off the safety committee. The next day 115 offshore oil workers in Humberside walked off the job demanding better health and safety conditions. Subsequent investigation determined Occidental failed to enforce basic maintenance and safety procedures. Over 100 safety improvements were recommended. Occidental paid out $100 million to the families, but escaped prosecution. Today, there is a memorial chapel at the Kirk of St. Nicholas and a memorial sculpture in the Rose Garden of Hazelhead Park, both in Aberdeen, Scotland.
2 minutes | Jul 5, 2021
July 5 - Bloody Thursday
On this day in labor history the year was 1934. That was the day known as Bloody Thursday. The historic West Coast Maritime Strike had been raging since May 9. Longshoremen refused to cede to the Industrial Association, determined to open the ports by force. The shipping bosses had rejected strikers’ demands, including a union hiring hall and recognition of offshore unions. By July 3, picketers had been fighting for hours to stop trucks sent into move cargo under police protection, as bosses attempted to open the ports. At 8 a.m. on this day, a line of strikebreaking trucks emerged. Thousands of strike squads amassed in the warehouse district. The Battle of Rincon Hill had begun. The fighting continued through the afternoon in the center of the Embarcadero as strikers attempted to stop scab freight cars. By the time it was over, longshoreman Howard Sperry and strike supporter, Nick Bordoise lay dead from police bullets. 30 strikers had been shot and dozens more lay in the hospital, some critically wounded. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Blood ran red in the streets of San Francisco.” In Workers on the Waterfront, Bruce Nelson notes, “Bloody Thursday was an epic moment. Strikers conducted themselves with remarkable precision and imagination in the face of three successive assaults by policemen who were using their firearms feely and laying down a barrage of tear gas bombs. Donald MacKenzie Brown, the businessman eyewitness, was overawed by the workers ‘insane courage;’ “in the face of bullets, gas, clubs, horse hoofs, death; against fast patrol cars and the radio, they fought back with rocks and bolts till the street was a mass of debris. They were fighting desperately for something that seemed to be life for them.”
2 minutes | Jul 4, 2021
July 4 - Founding of the National Unemployed Council
On this day in labor history, the year was 1930. That was the day some 1300 labor radicals and Communist Party supporters assembled in Chicago to establish The National Unemployed Council. That spring, Councils in major cities across the country held massive rallies for jobs and relief. They were responding to near catastrophic conditions created by the Stock Market crash. Delegates emerged from the founding convention with an organizational structure and demands for action. These included unemployment insurance, cash and work relief, public works at union wages, free food for children of the unemployed and a moratorium on evictions. Delegates acknowledged that African-Americans bore the worst of the unfolding Depression. They worked to address racial discrimination as part of an integrated push for jobs and relief. Councils were established throughout 46 states. They were best known for massive demonstrations, hunger marches and rent strikes. Councils mobilized hundreds, sometimes thousands quickly to march on city halls or relief offices when benefits were threatened. They were also able to mobilize scores of supporters at a moment’s notice to stop evictions. And in a unique move, councils often mobilized the unemployed to bolster picket lines during strikes. This undercut employer attempts at recruitment of scabs. By 1935, the National Unemployed Council merged with other socialist unemployed groupings, led by the Socialist Party and A.J. Muste, to form the Workers’ Alliance. According to sociologist, Chad Alan Goldberg, the Workers Alliance worked to secure “more WPA jobs, higher wages for WPA workers, and application of new federal labor laws to the WPA.” Goldberg attributes their demise by 1941 to a combination of factors, including the rise of a powerful anti-labor coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats, red baiting and internal political conflicts.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2021