Today in Labor History – May 5th


National Typographical Union founded, Cincinnati, Ohio. It was renamed the International Typographical Union in 1869, in acknowledgment of Canadian members. When the ITU merged into CWA in 1986 it was the oldest existing union in the U.S. – 1852

On Chicago’s West Side, police attack Jewish workers as they try to march into the Loop to protest slum conditions – 1886

Some 14,000 building trades workers and laborers, demanding an eight-hour work day, gather at the Milwaukee Iron Co. rolling mill in Bay View, Wisc. When they approach the mill they are fired on by 250 National Guardsmen under orders from the governor to shoot to kill. Seven die, including 13-year-old boy – 1886

Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are arrested in Boston for murder and payroll robbery. Eventually they are executed for a crime most believe they did not commit – 1920

The Infamous Battle of Harlan County (“Bloody Harlan”), Kentucky occurred. Also known as the Battle of Evarts, the strike began in response to wage cuts implemented in February. On May 5, a scab accosted a union worker, resulting in three deaths. Gov. Flem Sampson called in the National Guard, which killed several more union miners. The Harlan County class war was the inspiration for Florence Reece‘s famous union song Which Side Are You On? The strike continued for years, with the miners finally winning in 1940 – 1931

John J. Sweeney, president of the Service Employees Intl. Union from 1980 to 1995, then president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009, born in The Bronx, N.Y. – 1934

Lumber strike begins in Pacific Northwest, will involve 40,000 workers by the time victory is achieved after 13 weeks: union recognition, a 50 cent per hour minimum wage and an eight-hour day – 1937

The U.S. unemployment rate drops to a 30-year low of 3.9 percent; the rate for blacks and Hispanics is the lowest ever since the government started tracking such data – 2000


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