Today in Labor History – May 9th

William “Big Bill” Haywood
William “Big Bill” Haywood

A coal mine exploded at Roslyn, Washington killing 45 mine workers. – 1892

Striking tram workers blew up a tramcar during riots in St. Louis. – 1900

Japanese workers struck at Oahu, Hawaii’s Aiea Plantation, demanding the same pay as Portuguese and Puerto Rican workers. Ultimately 7,000 workers and their families remained out until August, when the strike was broken. – 1909

Legendary Western Federation of Miners leader William “Big Bill” Haywood went on trial for murder in the bombing death of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, who had brutally suppressed the state’s miners. Haywood ultimately was declared innocent. – 1907

Longshoremen began a strike for a union hiring hall and union recognition, ultimately leading to the San Francisco general strike. After World War One, West Coast longshore workers were poorly organized or represented by “company unions.” The IWW had tried to organize them and had some successes ( for example, San Pedro in 1922), but they were ultimately crushed by injunctions, imprisonment, deportation and vigilante violence. While longshoremen lacked a well-organized union, they retained a syndicalist sentiment and militancy. Many Wobblies were still working the docks. On May 9, 1934, longshoremen walked off the job at ports up and down the West Coast, soon to be followed by sailors. Strikers were shot by the bosses’ goons in San Pedro. There was also violence in Oakland and San Francisco. Street battles between the cops and strikers continued in San Francisco, heating up on July 3, and culminating in Bloody Thursday, on July 5, when 3 workers were shot by police (two of them died). The attack led to a four-day general strike that effectively shut down commerce in San Francisco, despite police violence and attempts to weaken it by national unions. – 1934

Hollywood studio mogul Louis B. Mayer recognized the Screen Actors Guild.  SAG leaders reportedly were bluffing when they told Mayer that 99 percent of all actors would walk out the next morning unless he dealt with the union. Some 5,000 actors attended a victory gathering the following day at Hollywood Legion Stadium; a day later, SAG membership increased 400 percent. – 1937

Labor leader Walter Reuther and his wife May died suspiciously in an airplane crash. Repeated attempts had been made on Reuther’s life going back to 1938. – 1971

4,000 garment workers at Farah Manufacturing Company in El Paso went out on strike over union representation. In January 1974, after a successful national boycott, the NLRB ruled in the workers’ favor, and the company finally recognized the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. The 1974 contract included pay increases, job security and seniority rights, and a grievance procedure. – 1972

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