This Labor Day, celebrate and raise a glass to those who died so that we can work with dignity and safety. They established the strong middle class we have enjoyed up to now.
July 1835: Children employed in the silk mills in Paterson, New Jersey go on strike for the 11-hour day, 6 days a week. Children, mind you.
July 1851: Two railroad strikers are shot dead and others injured by the state militia in Portage, New York.
January 1874: The original Tompkins Square Riot. As unemployed workers demonstrated in New York City's Tompkins Square Park, a detachment of mounted police charged into the crowd, beating men, women and children indiscriminately with billy clubs and leaving hundreds of casualties in their wake. Commented Abram Duryee, the Commissioner of Police: "It was the most glorious sight I ever saw..."
1885: Ten coal-mining activists ("Molly Maguires") were hanged in Pennsylvania.
May 1886: Bay View Tragedy -- About 2,000 Polish workers walked off their jobs and gathered at St. Stanislaus Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, angrily denouncing the ten hour workday. The protesters marched through the city, calling on other workers to join them. All but one factory was closed down as sixteen thousand protesters gathered at Rolling Mills. Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk called the state militia. The militia camped out at the mill while workers slept in nearby fields. On the morning of May 5th, as protesters chanted for the eight-hour workday, General Treaumer ordered his men to shoot into the crowd, some of whom were carrying sticks, bricks, and scythes, leaving seven dead at the scene, including a child. The Milwaukee Journal reported that eight more would die within twenty-four hours, adding that Governor Rusk was to be commended for his quick action in the matter.
November 1887: In the Thibodaux massacre in Thidodaux, Louisiana a local militia, aided by bands of "prominent citizens," shot at least 35 unarmed black sugar workers striking to gain a dollar-per-day wage, and lynched two strike leaders.
1890: Labor Leader Eugene V. Debs founded the American Railway Union (ARU) as an all craft organization. The ARU, however, was destroyed a few years later by company management, with government collusion and the use of federal troops during the Pullman Strike in 1894.
February 1894: In Cripple Creek, Colorado, miners went on strike when mine owners announced an increase from eight to ten hours per day, with no increase in wages. This strike marked perhaps the only time in American history that a state militia was called out to protect miners from sheriff's deputies.
September 1896: The state militia was sent to Leadville, Colorado to break a miner's strike.
September 1897: Lattimer Massacre -- 19 unarmed striking coal miners and mine workers were killed and 36 wounded by a posse organized by the Luzerne County sheriff for refusing to disperse near Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The strikers, most of whom were shot in the back, were originally brought in as strike-breakers, but later organized themselves.
November 1903: Colorado Labor Wars -- Troops were dispatched to Cripple Creek, Colorado to defeat a strike by the Western Federation of Miners, with the specific purpose of driving the union out of the district. The strike had begun in the ore mills earlier in 1903, and then spread to the mines.
July 1903: Labor organizer Mary Harris "Mother" Jones leads child workers in demanding a 55 hour work week.
June 1904: A battle between the Colorado Militia and striking miners at Dunnville ended with six union members dead and 15 taken prisoner. Seventy-nine of the strikers were deported to Kansas two days later.
November 1909: The New York shirtwaist strike of 1909 (Uprising of the 20,000). Female garment workers went on strike in New York; many were arrested. A judge told those arrested: "You are on strike against God." (Seriously? A garment company is God?)
March 1911: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire -- The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, occupying the top three floors of a ten-story building in New York City, was consumed by fire. One hundred and forty-six people, mostly women and young girls working in sweatshop conditions, died.
January–March 1912: Lawrence textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, often known as the "Bread and Roses" strike. Dozens of different immigrant communities united under the leadership of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in a largely successful strike led to a large extent by women. The strike is credited with inventing the moving picket line, a tactic devised to keep strikers from being arrested for loitering. It also adopted a tactic used before in Europe, but never in the United States, of sending children to sympathizers in other cities when they could not be cared for by strike funds. On 24 February, women attempting to put their children on a train out of town were beaten by police, shocking the nation
April 1912: The National Guard was called out against striking West Virginia coal miners.
June 1913: Police shot three maritime workers (one of whom was killed) who were striking against the United Fruit Company in New Orleans.
April 1914: The "Ludlow Massacre." In an attempt to persuade strikers at Colorado's Ludlow Mine Field to return to work, company "guards," engaged by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and other mine operators and sworn into the State Militia just for the occasion, attacked a union tent camp with machine guns, then set it afire. Five men, two women and 12 children died as a result.
January 1915: World famous labor leader Joe Hill was arrested in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was convicted on trumped up murder charges, and was executed 21 months later despite worldwide protests and two attempts to intervene by President Woodrow Wilson. In a letter to Bill Haywood shortly before his death he penned the famous words, "Don't mourn - organize!" On this same day, twenty rioting strikers were shot by factory guards at Roosevelt, New Jersey.
August 1916: Strikebreakers hired by the Everett Mills owner Neil Jamison attacked and beat picketing strikers in Everett, Washington. Local police watched and refused to intervene, claiming that the waterfront where the incident took place was Federal land and therefore outside their jurisdiction. (When the picketers retaliated against the strikebreakers that evening, the local police intervened, claiming that they had crossed the line of jurisdiction.) Three days later, twenty-two union men attempted to speak out at a local crossroads, but each was arrested; arrests and beatings of strikebreakers became common throughout the following months, and on 30 October vigilantes forced IWW speakers to run the gauntlet, subjecting them to whipping, tripping kicking, and impalement against a spiked cattle guard at the end of the gauntlet. In response, the IWW called for a meeting on 5 November. When the union men arrived, they were fired on; seven people were killed, 50 were wounded, and an indeterminate number woundup missing.
5 November 1916: The Everett Massacre (also known as Bloody Sunday) was an armed confrontation between local authorities and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union, commonly called "Wobblies", which took place in Everett, Washington on Sunday, November 5, 1916. The tragic event marked a time of rising tensions in Pacific Northwest labor history.
July 1917: The Bisbee Deportation: After seizing the local Western Union telegraph office in order to cut off outside communication, several thousand armed vigilantes forced 1,185 men in Bisbee, Arizona into manure-laden boxcars and "deported" them to the New Mexico desert. The action was precipitated by a strike when workers' demands (including improvements to safety and working conditions at the local copper mines, an end to discrimination against labor organizations and unequal treatment of foreign and minority workers, and the institution of a fair wage system) went unmet. The "deportation" was organized by Sheriff Harry Wheeler. The incident was investigated months later by a Federal Mediation Commission set up by President Woodrow Wilson; the Commission found that no federal law applied, and referred the case to the State of Arizona, which failed to take any action, citing patriotism and support for the war as justification for the vigilantes' action.
September 1917: Federal agents raid the IWW headquarters in 48 cities.
June 1918: A Federal child labor law, enacted two years earlier, was declared unconstitutional. A new law was enacted 24 February 1919, but this one too was declared unconstitutional (on 2 June 1924).
August 1919: United Mine Worker organizer Fannie Sellins was gunned down by company guards in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.
November 191: Centralia Massacre -- IWW organizer Wesley Everest was lynched after a Centralia, Washington IWW hall was attacked by Legionnaires.
May 1931: Gun-toting "vigilantes" attack striking miners in Harlan County, Kentucky.
March 1932: Police kill striking workers at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan plant.
October 1933: 18,000 cotton workers went on strike in Pixley, California. Four were killed before a pay-hike was finally won.
May 1934: Police attacked and fired upon striking Teamster truck drivers in Minneapolis who were demanding recognition of their union, wage increases, and shorter working hours. As violence escalated, Governor Olson went so far as to declare martial law in Minneapolis, deploying 4,000 National Guardsmen. The strike ended on August 21 when company owners finally accepted union demands.
September 1934: A strike in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, part of a national movement to obtain a minimum wage for textile workers, resulted in the deaths of three workers. Over 420,000 workers ultimately went on strike.
May 1937: Police kill 10 and wounded 30 during the "Memorial Day Massacre" at the Republic Steel plant in Chicago.
June 1938: The Wages and Hours (later Fair Labor Standards) Act is passed, banning child labor and setting the 40-hour work week. The Act went into effect in October 1940, and was upheld in the Supreme Court on 3 February 1941.
December 1941: The AFL pledges that there will be no strikes in defense-related industry plants for the duration of the war.
August 1981: Federal air traffic controllers began a nationwide strike after their union rejected the government's final offer for a new contract. Most of the 13,000 striking controllers defied the back-to-work order, and were dismissed by President Reagan on 5 August. Reagan ordered them to leave.