Today in Labor History – August 3rd

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Uriah Smith Stephens born in Cape May, NJ.  A tailor by trade, in 1869 he led nine Philadelphia garment workers to found the Knights of Labor – 1821

Four died in the so-called “Wheatland riots” when police fired into a crowd of California farmworkers trying to organize for better working conditions. Two labor leaders, one of whom was not even present at the massacre, were later convicted of murder for encouraging workers to organize, which forced officials to shoot and kill. Conditions were terrible with no water for the workers, who routinely contracted dysentery, malaria and typhoid fever. When the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had struck at the Durst hops farms in Wheatland, California, armed county officials fired on a union meeting. An ensuing gun fight left four dead, including the district attorney & sheriff – 1913

U.S. federal air traffic controllers began a nationwide strike after their union, PATCO, rejected the government’s final contract offer. Most of the 13,000 strikers ignored orders to go back to work and were fired on August 5 by President Reagan for participating in an illegal work stoppage. Reagan’s action – and the inability of the labor movement to respond to the crisis – led to the rapid downhill spiral of unions – 1981

Labor activist and song writer Florence Reece died. She had been active in Harlan County, Kentucky coal strikes and penned the famed labor song “Which Side Are You On?” The song was written in 1931 on an old wall calendar while Sheriff J.H. Blair was searching for her husband and ransacking her home. Blair had led his gang of thugs on a violent rampage, beating and murdering union leaders. – 1986

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