Today in Labor History

Labor history is OUR history

Archive for the month “May, 2014”

May 31, 1889


2,209 people die when a dam holding back a private resort lake upstream of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, bursts, releasing 4.8 billion gallons of water. Owners Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, who had altered the South Fork Dam to allow for development of a resort community for wealthy industrialists, were accused of not maintaining the dam, but the court ruled that the dam break was an “Act of God” and denied the survivors compensation. Carnegie built the town a new library.

May 30, 1741


Accusations, arrests, and trials are underway in New York City following a series of fires that broke out after a winter of economic hardship and fears of a slave uprising by white colonists. By the time the witch-hunt that became known as the New York Slave Conspiracy ended, 30 people had been hanged or burned at the stake.

May 29, 1912


Fifteen women working at the Philadelphia song publisher Curtis Publishing are fired from their jobs for dancing the Turkey Trot. They were on their lunch break, but management thought the dance too racy.

May 26, 1913


112 theatrical performers gather at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City to found the Actors’ Equity Association, adopting a constitution and electing comedian Francis Wilson as the association’s first president. Composer, director, and producer George M. Cohan said, “I will drive an elevator for a living before I will do business with any actors’ union.” Later a sign appeared in Times Square reading, “Elevator Operator Wanted. George M. Cohan Need Not Apply.”

May 25, 1805


In Philadelphia, leaders of a shoemakers’ union are arrested for organizing one of the country’s first strikes. They were brought to trial on criminal conspiracy charges of trying to raise their wages and convicted. In 1842, another case – also involving a strike by shoemakers – overturned the precedent set by Commonwealth v. Pullis.

May 21, 2004


After negotiations broke down earlier in the week, 100,000 SBC Communications workers begin a four-day strike to protest company moves to outsource jobs and increase their healthcare costs.

May 20, 1937


Steelworkers at Jones and Laughlin’s Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, steel mill vote overwhelmingly for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee as their exclusive bargaining agent. It marked the first NLRB election in the steel industry and the company was forced to rehire employees it had fired, with back pay, and recognize the union.

May 19, 1919


Thousands of miners are on strike in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia. Cooperative depots were established to supply struggling miners’ families with food during the eighteen month-long strike, which ended in November 1920 with improved safety conditions, better health monitoring, and a 35-hours work week.

May 18, 1912


The Detroit Tigers, playing at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, walk off the field, initiating major league baseball’s first strike. Three days earlier, Tigers player Ty Cobb had been suspended for beating a fan who had been heckling him and the players warned management that they wouldn’t play unless Cobb was reinstated. Management replaced the entire team, the Tigers lost 24-2, and the strike ended.

May 16, 1979


Labor leader and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph dies. In 1925, Randolph helped to found the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and led the union’s twelve-year fight for recognition as the bargaining agent for porters working at the Pullman Company. “Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.”

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