Today in Labor History – July 6th

Pullman 2

Striking construction workers in Duluth were shot down by the police. The workers, mostly immigrants, went on strike when contractors reneged on an agreement to pay them $1.75 a day. Mayor John Sutphin ordered police to keep strikers away from scabs, leading to fighting between strikers and police. There was an hour-long gun fight on the corner of 20th Avenue West and Michigan Street that killed two strikers and one bystander and wounded an estimated 30 strikers. The police eventually suppressed the strike through violence – 1889

Locked out workers out at the Homestead Steel Works battled 300 Pinkerton detectives hired by Carnegie, who owned the Homestead mill. The Pinkertons were there to import and protect scabs brought in to replace striking workers and opened fire on the striking steelworkers who defended themselves with guns and a homemade cannon. 3-7 Pinkertons and 11 union members were killed in the battle. The strike lasted for months, court injunctions eventually helped to crush the union, protecting the steel industry for decades from organized labor. Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman plotted to assassinate Homestead Boss Henry Clay Frick for his role in killing the workers. Berkman later carried out the assassination attempt, failed, and spent years in prison – 1892

Rail union leader Eugene V. Debs is arrested during the Pullman strike, described by the New York Times as “a struggle between the greatest and most important labor organization and the entire railroad capital” that involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states at its peak – 1894

Wobby and anarchist labor organizer Joe Hill’s song “The Preacher & the Slave” first appeared in the IWW’s Little Red Song Book – 1911

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet


You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

And the Starvation Army, they play,
And they sing and they clap and they pray,
Till they get all your coin on the drum,
Then they tell you when you’re on the bum


Workingmen of all countries, unite
Side by side we for freedom will fight
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain


Transit workers in New York begin what is to be an unsuccessful 3-week strike against the then-privately owned IRT subway. Most transit workers labored seven days a week, up to 11.5 hours a day – 1926

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2 thoughts on “Today in Labor History – July 6th

  1. Most Americans do no know the history of labor. Unions didn’t force themselves on business. Business abused their power regarding labor, and so employees got together to fight back, PLAIN AND SIMPLE. No normal person wants to be treated badly, and paid poorly for their hard work.
    Working Americans that despise organized labor are a mystery to me. They willingly accept poor job conditions, low pay, and ill treatment. Being employed should not be a “we win, and you must lose, and like it.” What kind of a person is that?

    “All that loves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason to America . . . . If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar.”

  2. Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

    Abraham Lincoln


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