Today in Labor History – January 15th

The Great Molasses Flood

The Great Molasses Flood

In Chicago for a demonstration against hunger, Wobbly Ralph Chaplin completed the writing of the labor anthem “Solidarity Forever” on this date in 1915. He’d begun writing it in 1914 during a miners’ strike in Huntington, W. Va. The first verse:

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong. – 1915

Seventeen workers in the area died when a large molasses storage tank in Boston’s North End neighborhood burst, sending a 40-foot wave of molasses surging through the streets at an estimated 35 miles per hour. In all, 21 people died and 150 were injured. The incident is variously known as the Boston Molasses Disaster, the Great Molasses Flood, and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy. Some residents claim that on hot summer days, the area still smells of molasses. – 1919

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on this date. King once said, “We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves unemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you’re not getting adequate wages”. – 1929

The CIO miners’ union in the Grass Valley area of California struck for higher wages, union recognition, and the 8-hour day. The strike was defeated when vigilantes and law enforcement officials expelled 400 miners and their families from the area. – 1938

The Pentagon, to this day the largest office building in the world, was dedicated just 16 months after groundbreaking. At times of peak employment, 13,000 workers labored on the project. – 1943

260,000 U.S. electrical workers struck against General Electric, Westinghouse, and General Motors. – 1946

Margaret Mary Vojtko died at age 83 in Homestead, Pennsylvania. She was an adjunct professor of French and medieval literature at Duquesnne University for 25 years. Vojtko was a pay-by-the-courses-taught part-timer with no benefits before being told her contract wouldn’t be renewed but was offered a tutoring job at two-thirds her old salary. She was making so little that she slept in her office, unable to afford to heat her home because of medical bills. She had been active in trying to form an adjunct’s union. She died five months after being fired. – 2013

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