Today in Labor History – August 20th

Labor History August 20th

The short-lived National Labor Union (U.S.) was formed on this date and called for the 8-hour workday. The union, led by William H. Sylvis, was the first American labor union to unite skilled and unskilled workers (preceding the Industrial Workers of the World by nearly 40 years). At its height, the union had 640,000 members. – 1866

Sentences were handed down on this date against the Haymarket defendants. All were found guilty despite the obvious innocence of most of them. None were even present at the scene of the bombing at Haymarket Square, Chicago, where activists had been organizing for the 8-hour day. Seven of the eight defendants (George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab and August Spies) were condemned to death. Oscar Neebe was sent to prison for 15 years. The hangings occurred on November 11, 1887. – 1886

Fourteen weeks after beginning a walkout, the Amalgamated Woodworkers Union of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, ended its strike. – 1898

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was engaged in a free-speech fight in Fresno, California. – 1909

The Great Fire of 1910,  (also commonly referred to as the Big Blowup, the Big Burn or the Devil’s Broom fire) was a wildfire that consumed about 3 million acres in Washington, Idaho and Montana—an area about the size of Connecticut. The firestorm burned over two days and killed 87 people, mostly firefighters. It is believed to be the largest, although not the deadliest, fire in U.S. history.  – 1910

An office for the Parrot Mine in Butte, Montana was dynamited on this date. In March 1912, Amalgamated Copper fired 500 miners, accusing them of being Socialists. In December they imposed a blacklist to exclude workers with affiliations to leftist and labor organizations. Pinkerton and Thiel detective agencies infiltrated the union to mark agitators and provoke violence in order to weaken the union. – 1914

Deranged relief postal service carrier Patrick “Crazy Pat” Henry Sherrill shoots and kills 14 coworkers, and wounds another six, before killing himself at an Edmond, Oklahoma, postal facility.  Supervisors had ignored warning signs of Sherrill’s instability, investigators later found; the shootings came a day after he had been reprimanded for poor work.  The incident inspired the objectionable term “going postal”. – 1986

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