Today in Labor History – September 2nd

labor history september 2

Old miner at the Battle of Blair Mountain

The Rock Spring massacre, also known as the Rock Springs Riot, occurred on this date. The riot, between Chinese immigrant miners and white immigrant miners, was the result of racial tension and an ongoing labor dispute over the Union Pacific Coal Department’s policy of paying Chinese miners lower wages than white miners. This policy caused the Chinese to be hired over the white miners, which angered the white miners and contributed to the riot. Racial tensions were an even bigger factor in the massacre. When the rioting ended, at least 28 Chinese miners were dead and 15 more injured. – 1885

Operating railway employees won an 8-hour day. – 1916

The Battle of Blair Mountain ended on this date in 1921 with the U.S. government bombing striking coal miners by plane, the first time the U.S. government used planes to bomb its own citizens. The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest civil uprisings in U.S. history and the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. The uprising lasted 5 days and involved 10,000-15,000 coal miners confronting an army of scabs and police. The battle came as mine owners tried to crush attempts by coal miners to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. From the late 1800s, mine owners forced workers to live in company towns, where rent was deducted from their wages and they were paid in scrip, which was accepted only at the overpriced company stores and was worthless everywhere else. The work was very dangerous and safety equipment and precautions were minimal. The mine owners had a long tradition of using private detectives and goons to spy on workers, infiltrate their meetings, rough them up, and block any attempts to unionize. The battle began after Sheriff Sid Hatfield (an ally of the miners and hero from the Battle of Matewan) was assassinated by Baldwin-Felts agents. Much of the region was still under martial law as a result of the Battle of Matewan. Miners began to leave the mountains armed and ready for battle. Mother Jones tried to dissuade them from marching into Logan and Mingo Counties, fearing a bloodbath. Many accused her of losing her nerve. The miners ignored her and a battle ensued between miners and cops, private detectives, scabs and eventually the U.S. military. – 1921

President Eisenhower signed legislation expanding Social Security by providing much wider coverage and including 10 million additional Americans, most of them self-employed farmers, with additional benefits. – 1954

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed by President Ford, regulating and insuring pensions and other benefits, and increasing protections for workers. – 1974

The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America’s Largest Labor Uprising

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