Today in Labor History

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Archive for the month “October, 2012”

October 30, 1916


In an escalation of their attempts to intimidate and run the Industrial Workers of World out of Everett, Washington, Sheriff Donald McRae and his deputies round up 41 Wobblies who had come to town to support striking shingle workers, beat them, and force them to run through a gauntlet of “law and order” officials armed with clubs and whips.  The IWW would return, however, with greater numbers on November 5.

October 29, 1889


Japanese immigrant and labor advocate Katsu Goto is lynched by men employed by the owner of the Ookala Plantation in Hawaii.  After working for three years as a contract laborer for $9 a month on a plantation, Goto opened up a general store in competition with the local company store and served as a liaison between Japanese laborers and plantation management, facilitating mediation, acting as an interpreter, and advocating for improved working conditions.

October 28, 1879


Puerto Rican labor organizer, writer, and activist Luisa Capetillo is born.  She wrote for the newspaper of La Federacion Libre de Trabajadores for years, worked tirelessly on organizing drives throughout Puerto Rico, and led major strikes by agricultural workers – including the successful sugar cane strike of 1916 of over 40,000 workers.  Capetillo died in 1922 at the age of 43.

October 27, 1904


The New York City Subway opens.  The first line traveled 9.1 miles through 28 stations.  The New York Times reported at the time that “[a]lthough there were numerous minor accidents and individual accidents to laborers, the total [number] of deaths due to the Subway work has been very small for a work of such magnitude.  There is no accurate record on the subject.”

October 26, 1825

ImageBegun in 1817, the Erie Canal – linking Lake Erie on the west to the Hudson River on the east – is completed.  The canal was dug from Albany to Buffalo, 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide.  Local laborers and Irish immigrants were primarily employed to build the canal, paid 80 cents per day for 10-12 hours of work; estimates are that over 1,000 workers died during the construction.

October 25, 1949


A strike that began in May by longshoremen in Hawaii over wage parity with their mainland counterparts ends in victory despite scabbing and attempts to break the strike, arrests and court actions, and the employers’ refusal to go to arbitration.  The ILWU victory gave Hawaii longshoremen the same kind of recognition and status won by the mainland longshoremen in 1934.

October 24, 1940


The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938’s mandate of a 40-hour work week with time-and-a half overtime pay for hours of work beyond that goes into effect.  The legislation was passed to eliminate “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and the general well-being of workers.”

October 23, 1902


150,000 anthracite coal miners in eastern Pennsylvania end a strike that had begun five months earlier for higher wages, shorter workdays, and union recognition.  With the advent of winter and a severe coal shortage at hand, President Theodore Roosevelt set up a commission agreed to by both labor and management that ultimately arbitrated the strike, setting a precedent for future government intervention in strikes.

October 22, 2012


It’s Labour Day in New Zealand.  The origins of Labour Day go back to the eight-hour day movement in that country that began in 1840 when carpenter Samuel Parnell refused to work a longer day.  “We have twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleeping, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which men do what little things they want for themselves,” Parnell said.  Fifty years later, the anniversary of the eight-hour day was commemorated with a parade and then celebrated annually thereafter.

October 20, 1926


Eugene V. Debs, U.S. labor leader and socialist, dies in Elmhurst, Illinois.  “Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage.  I would not lead you out if I could; for if you could be led out, you could be led back again. I would have you make up your minds there is nothing that you cannot do for yourselves.” -Eugene V. Debs

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