Today in Labor History

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Archive for the category “1870-1879”

January 13, 1874

ImageAs 7,000+ workers demonstrate in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park for unemployment relief, mounted police charge into the crowd, beating men, women, and children with billy clubs. Future American Federation of Labor (AFL) President Samuel Gompers, who was at the demonstration, described the police attack as “an orgy of brutality.”

January 12, 1876


Novelist Jack London is born. His classic definition of a scab: someone who would cross a picket line and take a striker’s job: “After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.”

January 6, 1878


Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author Carl Sandburg is born in Galesburg, Illinois.  His working class upbringing was reflected in his work, as in this poem, “Working Girls.”  Each day they go to work, he wrote, “long lines of them afoot amid the downtown stores and factories, thousands with little brick-shaped lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms.  Each morning as I move through this river of young-woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all going, so many with a peach bloom of young years on them and laughter of red lips and memories in their eyes of dances the night before and plays and walks.”

November 24, 1875


The United Cigar Makers of New York affiliates with the Cigar Makers’ International Union (CMIU) to form CMIU Local 144.  Samuel Gompers was elected first president of the local and served several terms before going on to serve as the international’s vice president.  “[W]e are powerless in an isolated condition,” Gompers said, “while the capitalists are united; therefore it is the duty of every Cigar Maker to join the organization.”

November 11, 1887


Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer, framed for the Haymarket bombing in Chicago, are executed.  Spies’ last words — “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today” — are engraved on the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in Chicago’s Forest Home Cemetery.

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 11, 1874


Author, labor journalist, and social critic Mary Heaton Vorse is born in New York City.  For over 50 years, Vorse traveled the country and the world, reporting on labor issues, struggles, and strikes.  [Photo:  Vorse is presented with the UAW’s Social Justice Award by Walter Reuther at the union’s 1962 convention.]

October 8, 1871


The Great Chicago Fire begins, a fire that would burn through the early morning hours of October 10.  The fire injured 30 of the city’s 185 firefighters, claimed the lives of hundreds of people, left nearly a third of the city homeless, and destroyed almost 20,000 buildings.

October 7, 1879


Joel Emmanuel Hägglund (aka “Joe Hill”) is born in Gävle, Sweden.  Joe Hill was a labor activist, member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and songwriter — the author of “There is Power in a Union,” “The Rebel Girl,” and “The Preacher and the Slave,” among others.

September 26, 1874


Sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine is born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  In 1908, Hine became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee and spent the next decade documenting child labor to help the organization’s lobbying efforts to end child labor in American industry.

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