THIS WEEK IN LABOR HISTORY: FEBRUARY 21-27

FEBRUARY 21
1868 – A state law is enacted in California providing the eight-hour day for most workers, but it was not effectively enforced.

1972 – United Farm Workers of America granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.

FEBRUARY 22
1892 – Representatives of the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers meet in St. Louis with 20 other organizations to plan the founding convention of the People’s Party. Objectives: end political corruption, spread the wealth, and combat the oppression of the rights of workers and farmers.

1997 – Albert Shanker dies at age 68. He served as president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers from 1964 to 1984 and of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997.

FEBRUARY 23
1868 – W.E.B. DuBois, educator and civil rights activist, born.

1875 – The National Marine Engineers Association (now the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association), representing deck and engine officers on U.S. flag vessels, is formed at a convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
1887 – The Journeyman Bakers’ National Union receives its charter from the American Federation of Labor.
1904 – William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner began publishing articles on the menace of Japanese laborers, leading to a resolution in the California legislature that action be taken against their immigration.
1940 – Woody Guthrie writes “This Land Is Your Land” following a frigid trip — partially by hitchhiking, partially by rail — from California to Manhattan. The Great Depression was still raging. Guthrie had heard Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” and resolved to himself: “We can’t just bless America; we’ve got to change it.”
1984 – Association of Flight Attendants granted a charter by the AFL-CIO.
2004 – Following voter approval for the measure in 2003, San Francisco’s minimum wage rises to $8.50, up from $6.75.

FEBRUARY 24
1908 – U.S. Supreme Court upholds Oregon state restrictions on the working hours of women, justified as necessary to protect their health. A laundry owner was fined $10 for making a female employee work more than 10 hours in a single day.
1912 – Women and children textile strikers beaten by Lawrence, Mass., police during a 63-day walkout protesting low wages and work speedups.
1919 – Congress passes a federal child labor tax law that imposed 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 14 in a “mill, cannery, workshop, factory, or manufacturing establishment.” The Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional three years later.

FEBRUARY 25
1965 – Amalgamated Association of Street & Electric Railway Employees of America changes name to Amalgamated Transit Union.

1965 – The Order of Railroad Telegraphers changes name to Transportation-Communication Employees Union.
2011 – A crowd estimated to be 100,000 strong rallies at the Wisconsin state Capitol in protest of what ultimately was to become a successful push by the state’s Republican majority to cripple public employee bargaining rights.

FEBRUARY 26
1885 – Congress OKs the Contract Labor Law, designed to clamp down on “business agents” who contracted abroad for immigrant labor. One of the reasons unions supported the measure: employers were using foreign workers to fight against the growing U.S. Labor Movement, primarily by deploying immigrant labor to break strikes.

1941 – Bethlehem Steelworkers strike for union recognition, Bethlehem, Pa.
1972 – A coal slag heap doubling as a dam in West Virginia’s Buffalo Creek Valley collapsed, flooding the 17-mile long valley; 118 died, 5,000 were left homeless. The Pittston Coal Co. said it was “an act of God.”
2004 – A 20-week strike by 70,000 Southern California supermarket workers ends with both sides claiming victory.

FEBRUARY 27
1875 – Legendary Labor leader and socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs becomes a charter member and secretary of the Vigo Lodge, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. Five years later he is leading the national union and in 1893 helps found the nation’s first industrial union, the American Railway Union.

1902 – Birth of John Steinbeck in Salinas, Calif. Steinbeck is best known for writing “The Grapes of Wrath,” which exposed the mistreatment of migrant farmworkers during the Depression and led to some reforms.
1932 – Thirty-eight miners die in a coal mine explosion in Boissevain, Va.
1937 – Four-hundred-fifty Woolworth’s workers and customers occupy store for eight days in support of Waiters and Waitresses Union, Detroit.
1939 – The Supreme Court rules that sit-down strikes, a major organizing tool for industrial unions, are illegal.
1943 – Mine disaster kills 75 at Red Lodge, Mont.

(Compiled by David Prosten, founder of Union Communication Services)

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