Today in Labor History

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Archive for the month “February, 2016”

February 27, 1937

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Just days after the autoworkers’ victory at General Motors, more than 100 women workers at one of forty Woolworth stores in Detroit, Michigan, begin a sit-down strike over wages, hours, working conditions, and union recognition. Solidarity action in support of the workers was incredible, the strike spread, and on March 5 the workers won their demands, including the union shop. The union won a uniform contract for all forty stores in Detroit, which covered 2,500 workers.

February 25, 1941

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The February Strike begins. It was a general strike in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands by workers against the pogroms and deportation of Jews in Amsterdam. It was the only direct action of its kind during World War II in Europe against the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. The strike is commemorated annually on February 25 at the statue of the De Dokwerker (“The Dock Worker”) in Amsterdam.

February 24, 1919

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Congress passes a federal Child Labor Tax law that imposes a 10 percent tax on companies that employ children, defined as anyone under the age of 16 working in a mine/quarry or under the age of 14 in a “mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment.” The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1922.

February 23, 1940

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Woody Guthrie writes “This Land Is Your Land” following a trip hitchhiking and riding the rails from California to New York. It was a musical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”: “We can’t just bless America, we’ve got to change it.”

February 20, 1917

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Wartime inflation fuels workers’ demands for increased wages; in the first six months of 1917 alone, there were over 3,000 strikes in the United States. Food riots were also common and on this date, thousands of women took to the streets in New York City to protest exorbitant prices. Their actions precipitated a boycott campaign that eventually forced prices down.

February 19, 1910

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The Philadelphia Rapid Transit trolley company fires 173 workers – all members of the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America – and replaces them with scabs from New York City. Street battles, demonstrations, and a general strike ensued in the city that lasted for 57 days.

February 18, 1953

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The Screen Actors Guild’s first-ever strike – which began over filmed television commercials – ends when a contract is reached that covers all work in commercials.

February 16, 2011

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Public schools in Madison close after teachers call in sick to protest Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s bill that would strip the state’s 175,000 public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

February 14, 1818

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Abolitionist Frederick Douglass is born into slavery in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but Douglass chose to celebrate February 14 as his birthdate. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

February 13, 1913

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After West Virginia Governor William E. Glasscock declares martial law to put down the coal miners’ strike in in Kanawha county, 83-year old activist and organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is arrested. She was tried and convicted by a military court and sentenced to twenty years in prison. “Whatever I have done in West Virginia,” she said, “I have done it all over the United States. And when I get out, I will do it again.” She was released and pardoned after serving 85 days.

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