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Labor history milestones dominate the month of May

Labor History

Compiled by DEBORAH A. MILES

During the month of May, significant labor events took place that showed strength in solidarity and the indomitable spirit of union activists.

Listed below are some of the highlights.

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• May 1 is celebrated in more than 80 countries as International Workers Day. Its origin commemorates the bloody demonstration that occurred May, 4, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago among union workers who demanded an 8-hour work day.

• May 3, 1932 – The National Farmers Holiday Association (FHA) was founded by Milo Reno, former president of the Iowa Farmers Union. The FHA fought against foreclosures and helped farmers save their homes by holding auctions, and physically blocking roads from sheriffs who intended to sell their property.

• May 5, 1868 – Three years after the Civil War ended, union veterans called the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate graves of the war dead with flowers. Its name changed to Memorial Day in 1971 when it became an official federal holiday observed on the last Monday in May.

• May 11, 1894 – Pullman Palace Car Company factory workers walked off the job. The strike and boycott crippled railway traffic nationwide. At its peak, it involved 250,000 workers in 27 states.

• May 12, 1902 – Nearly 150,000 coal miners went on strike in Eastern Pennsylvania for higher wages, better working conditions and recognition of their union, the United Mine Workers of America. After 163 days, President Teddy Roosevelt stopped the strike.

• May 13, 1913 – The African-American Marine Transport Workers Local 8 of the Industrial Workers of the World began a successful strike in Philadelphia over wages and union recognition. More than 4,000 dockworkers and members participated.

• May 13, 1998 – Organized by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, drivers in NYC went on a one-day strike to protest former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s proposed taxi cab regulations.

• May 14, 1953 – Brewery workers at six Milwaukee breweries went on strike over low wages. The strike ended in late July when the workers won their demands.

• May 15, 1917 – The Library Employees’ Union in New York City was the first union of public library workers in the U.S. A major focus was the inferior status of women library workers and their low salaries. The union applied the tactics used by suffragists and other reformers to the library world.

• May 16, 1934 – Members of the Minnesota General Drivers and Helpers Union Local 574 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters went on strike after employers refused to recognize their union. Despite a concerted and violent effort by employers, the police and military, the strike ended successfully and was a turning point in Minnesota labor history.

• May 18, 1979 – An Oklahoma jury sided with a worker, Karen Silkwood, an active member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union. It ordered the Kerr-McGee Nuclear Co. to pay actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages for negligence leading to her plutonium contamination.

• May 19, 1950 – Thirty-one workers were killed and more than 350 injured when ammunition and explosives being loaded without a permit onto a barge exploded at the Pennsylvania Railroad piers on the Raritan River. It was one of New Jersey’s worse disasters.

• May 21, 1945 – The Hawaii Legislature passed the Hawaii Employee Relations Act, dubbed the Little Wagner Act, which allows Hawaiian agriculture workers the right to unionize or join a union. The International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union were instrumental in pushing for the legislation.

• May 21, 2004 – After negotiations broke down earlier in the week, 100,000 Southwestern Bell Corporation (now AT&T) employees began a four-day strike to protest company moves to outsource jobs and increase health care costs.

• May 26, 1913 – More than 100 theatrical performers gathered at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in NYC to found the Actors’ Equity Association. They adopted a constitution and elected comedian Francis Wilson as its first president.

• May 29, 1912 – Fifteen women who worked at the Philadelphia song publisher Curtis Publishing were fired from their jobs for dancing the Turkey Trot. They were on their lunch break, but management thought the dance too racy.

• May 31, 1997 – Rose Will Monroe, who became known as “Rosie the Riveter” died at the age of 77. She worked at an aircraft parts factory during World War II and was discovered by filmmakers. She is still recognized in an iconic poster flexing her muscle with the words “We Can Do it.”

Table of Contents – May 2017

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