Today in Labor History – May 1st

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was born on this day. Mother Jones was renowned for her militancy and fiery oration, as well as her many juicy quotes. She once said, “I’m no lady. I’m a hell-raiser.”  She also was an internationalist, saying “My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression.” Despite the difficulties of constant travel, poor living and jail, she lived to be 100. – 1830

Cigar makers in Cincinnati warned there could be a strike in the fall if factory owners continued to insist that they pay 30 cents per month for heating gas consumed at work during mornings and evenings. – 1883

The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU), a forerunner of the AFL, resolved that “8 hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886.” Ironically, the FOTLU, which was one of the first bureaucratized “business” unions and which was created as a conservative foil against the radical Knights of Labor, essentially contributed to the ensuing mass insurgency with its resolution. – 1884

The first nationwide General Strike for the 8-hour day occurred on this day. 340,000 workers struck in Chicago, Milwaukee, and cities throughout the U.S. Four demonstrators were killed and over 200 were wounded by police in Chicago. – 1886

Nineteen machinists working for the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad gathered in a locomotive pit to decide what to do about a wage cut. They voted to form a union, which later became the International Association of Machinists. – 1888

The first International Labor Day was celebrated. The U.S. decided to create its own labor day in September to undercut worker solidarity and to whitewash its violent history of repressing strikes and worker protests. – 1889

The cross-country march by Coxey’s Army of the Unemployed ended within a march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. – 1894

The Cooks’ and Waiters’ Union struck in San Francisco. They were demanding one day of rest per week, a ten-hour work day and a closed union shop for all restaurants in the city. – 1901

1,200 members of the Iron Molders Union in Milwaukee struck for shorter hours and more pay. They lost the strike after two years of bitter struggle. One employer, Allis-Chalmers, spent $21,700 to hire the Burr-Herr Detective Agency, resulting in more than 200 assaults on union members, including union leader Peter Cramer, who was killed. The agency offered one unionist ten dollars for each striker he beat up. – 1906

Mother Jones’ 100th birthday was celebrated at the Burgess Farm in Adelphi, Maryland. She died six months later. – 1930

New York City’s Empire State Building officially opened. Construction involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, and hundreds of Mohawk ironworkers. Five workers died during construction. – 1931

Congress enacted amendments to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, extending protections to the employees of state and local governments. However, these protections didn’t take effect until 1985 because of court challenges. – 1938

Congress enacts amendments to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, extending protections to the employees of state and local governments, protections which didn’t take effect until 1985 because of court challenges and regulation-writing problems. – 1974

The Federal minimum wage rose to $2.00 per hour. – 1974

The International Molders and Allied Workers Union merged with the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union. – 1988

The Woodworkers of America International merged with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. – 1994

The International Leather Goods, Plastics & Novelty Workers Union merged with the Service Employees International Union. – 1996

Millions of immigrants, participating in a national day of mobilization, stayed home from work. Their goal was to demonstrate their economic power and demand comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration laws. It is estimated that 100,000 gathered in San Jose, California, 200,000 in New York, and 400,000 each in Chicago and Los Angeles.  There were demonstrations in at least 50 cities. Despite their numbers, the country has seen a wave of increasingly repressive and racist immigration laws enacted locally in places like Arizona, Georgia, and Florida. – 2006

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