Today in Labor History – February 23rd

19-year-old Irish immigrant Kate Mullany led members of the Collar Laundry Union, the first all-female union in the United States, in a successful strike in Troy, New York. The union asked for  increased wages and improved working conditions. Women working in commercial laundries spent 12 to 14 hours a day ironing and washing detachable collars with harsh chemicals and boiling water and were paid about three to four dollars per week. – 1864

W.E.B. DuBois, educator and civil rights activist, was born on this day. – 1868

The country’s oldest maritime union, the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, was founded when five steamship unions out of Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore convened  and decided to join together. Poor steamship design and construction, inadequate training, and the drive for profits and markets led to dangerous working conditions in the late nineteenth century. – 1875

The Journeyman Bakers National Union was chartered by the American Federation of Labor on this date. Its founder, George Block, was also nominated to head the newly-formed AFL. When he declined, Samuel Gompers was unanimously chosen. Today, the bakers union has become the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. – 1887

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. – 1904

Woody Guthrie wrote “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”. – 1940

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

The Association of Flight Attendants were granted a charter by the AFL-CIO. – 1984

San Francisco’s minimum wage increase went into effect, bringing the hourly rate to $8.50 from $6.75. In 2003, voters approved a local ordinance tying the minimum wage to the regional rate of inflation. – 2004

Woody Guthrie: A Life

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