Today in Labor History

Labor history is OUR history

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

February 12, 1880


Labor leader John L. Lewis is born in Cleveland, Iowa, to Welsh immigrant parents.  Lewis began working as a miner when he was a teenager, worked as a mine workers’ organizer for the American Federation of Labor, and went on to serve the president of the United Mine Workers of America for 40 years. A firm believer in industrial unionism, Lewis formed the predecessor organization to what would become the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

February 11, 1913


“You don’t have to die to get to hell. Just come to Akron, Ohio, and get a pass to enter any one of the many rubber shops.” Workers at the Firestone factory walk off the job over the imposition of a new piece-rate scale. Four days later, nearly 15,000 workers were on strike in the city.

February 10, 1973


The worst industrial disaster in Staten Island history occurs when gas trapped inside a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tank explodes and blows the concrete roof off the tank, killing 40 workers. Distrigas’ plan to transport and store LNG near populated areas – long opposed by homeowners – was abandoned after the incident, with the mayor and federal agencies reversing their original support of the project.

February 9, 1854


Novelist, journalist, and social activist George Lippard dies. Considered the first muckraking novel in the United States, his “The Quaker City” (1845) was a best seller about city life in Philadelphia. In 1849, Lippard founded the Brotherhood of the Union to “espouse the cause of the Masses, and battle against the tyrants of the Social System – against corrupt Bankers, against Land Monopolists, and against all Monied Oppressors.” The Brotherhood eventually had 40,000 members in 20 states.

February 8, 1886


Tens of thousands of unemployed workers rally in Trafalgar Square in London, England. Scotland Yard was called in to quell the subsequent march and riot through the West End by what the press called a “class of loafers who are unemployed for the simple reason that they have never done a day’s work in their lives.”

February 7, 2008


A huge explosion and fire occurred at the Imperial Sugar refinery northwest of Savannah, Georgia, causing 14 deaths and injuring 38 others. The explosion was fueled by massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust throughout the packaging building. An investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board stated that the explosion had been “entirely preventable,” noting that the sugar industry had been aware of the risk of dust explosions since 1926.

February 6, 1910


A strike by shirtwaist workers – primarily immigrant women and girls – in Philadelphia’s garment sweatshops ends. Despite mass arrests, intimidation, scabs, and media blasts against them, the workers refused to back down until their demands for improved working conditions, reduce working hours, increased wages, and union recognition were met. [Photo: unidentified shirtwaist workers, probably in New York, ca. 1909.]

February 4, 1825


The Ohio House and Senate approve the construction of the Ohio canal system. The first canal constructed was the Miami and Erie Canal. Irish immigrants, convicts, and local farmers used picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows to relocate the dirt and clay, working from dawn to dusk for 30 cents a day. Construction of the 249-mile long canal between Toledo and Cincinnati took 20 years.

February 3, 1971


An explosion at the Thiokol chemical plant in Woodbine, Georgia, kills 29 workers and severely injures many more. Investigations found that mislabeled chemicals, inadequate storage procedures, and insufficient fire protection all contributed to the explosion.

February 2, 1929


3,000 timber workers are locked out of nearly 70 timber mills in New South Wales, Australia, when they refuse to accept a judge’s order for a longer work week and reduced wages. The workers remained out for eight and a half months, with the support of other unions and the community.

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