Today in Labor History – May 15th

labor history may 15

Pope Leo XIII issued the revolutionary encyclical Rerum novarum in defense of workers and the right to organize. Forty years later to the day, Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo anno, believed by many to be even more radical than Leo XIII’s. – 1891

The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was founded by Big Bill Haywood.  In 1905, Haywood helped found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). – 1893

New Jersey became the first state to prohibit employment discrimination against union members. – 1894

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samuel Gompers and other union leaders for supporting a boycott at the Buck Stove and Range Company in St. Louis, where workers were striking for a nine-hour day. A lower court had forbidden the boycott and sentenced the unionists to prison for refusing to obey the judge’s anti-boycott injunction. – 1906

Factory owner Harry Widdicomb attempted to personally drive scabs through a crowd of 1,200 striking furniture workers and supporters gathered outside his factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A battle broke out and the fighting drew more people to help the strikers, swelling the crowd to 2,000. When it ended at midnight, every window in the factory had been smashed. – 1911

The Library Employees’ Union was founded in New York City, the first union of public library workers in the United States. A major focus of the union was the inferior status of women library workers and their low salaries. – 1917

Launched by officers of the Machinists, the first labor bank opened in Washington, D.C.The Locomotive Engineers opened a bank in Cleveland later that year – 1920

IWW songwriter T-Bone Slim, died in New York City. T-Bone wrote such Wobbly classics as The Mysteries of a Hobo’s Life, The Popular Wobbly, and The Lumberjack’s Prayer. (From The Unionist and Rebel Voices, edited by Joyce L. Kornbluh). – 1942

Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny uncovered the true face of American labor bosses: AFL-CIO President George Meany, Secretary-Treasurer Lane Kirkland, and other union officials were among the 60 leading stockholders in the 15,000 acre Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic, benefiting handsomely when the Dominican president sent troops to forcibly evict impoverished tobacco farmers and fishermen who had lived there for generations. – 1973


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