Today in Labor History

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Archive for the category “1910-1919”

March 10, 1919

debs

The U.S. Supreme Court rules on Debs v. United States, affirming the labor leader’s conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 for an anti-war speech he gave in Canton, Ohio, in 1918. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison and disenfranchised for life. While in prison, he ran for president in the 1920 election and received 919,799 votes (3.4 percent of the popular vote).

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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 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 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.

January 21, 1919

January 21

35,000 shipyard workers in Seattle go on strike seeking wage increases. They appealed to the Seattle Central Labor Council for support and within two weeks, more than 100 local unions joined in a call for a general strike to begin on the morning of February 6. The 60,000 total strikers paralyzed the city’s normal activities, while their General Strike Committee maintained order and provided essential services.

January 19, 1915

January 19

Guards employed by the Agricultural Fertilizer Chemical Company in Chrome, New Jersey, open fire on unarmed striking workers, killing two people and wounding eighteen others. The next day, 31 deputy sheriffs were arrested, charged with first-degree murder, and held without bail. The workers eventually won a wage increase and nine of the deputies were convicted of manslaughter and received sentences of between two and ten years each.

January 17, 1915

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Organized and led by radical labor organizer, Lucy Parsons, more than 1,500 people march in Chicago, demanding relief from hunger and high levels of unemployment in the city. Parsons was described by the Chicago Police Department as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”

January 15, 1919

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A 58 ft. high metal tank, 90 ft. in diameter, filled with 2.5 million gallons of crude molasses bursts in Boston, and the explosion sends a 40 ft. tall tidal wave of molasses and debris crashing down Commercial Street. What became known as the Boston Molasses Flood killed 21 workers and residents and injured another 150. After many years of litigation, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company was eventually found culpable and forced to pay a million dollar settlement.

December 24, 1913

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At least 73 people – mostly children – die in a stampede following a false cry of “Fire!” at a Christmas Eve party held by striking mine workers for their families at the Italian Hall in Calumet, Michigan. Witnesses identified the man who stepped into the hall and shouted the alarm as a strikebreaker, but no one was held accountable for the tragedy.

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