Today in Labor History – July 5th

Bloody Thursday

Thousands of United States Marshals and some 12,000 United States Army troops, commanded by Brigadier General Nelson Miles, interfered with a peaceful labor strike led by Eugene Debs against the Pullman Palace Car Company, which had drastically cut wages. President Cleveland wanted the trains moving again and based the action on his constitutional responsibility for the mail. His lawyers argued that the boycott violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and represented a threat to the public safety. Federal troops killed 34 American Railway Union members in the Chicago area and buildings constructed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago’s Jackson Park were set ablaze, reducing seven to ashes. Debs and others were imprisoned for violating injunctions. – 1894 

Two strikers were shot and killed and more than 100 were injured by San Francisco police in what came to be known as “Bloody Thursday,” leading to one of the last General Strikes in U.S. that effectively shut down both San Francisco and Oakland. The governor called in the National Guard to suppress the strike in what one paper called “War In San Francisco!”  Police and National Guard violence led to 43 injuries due to clubbing and gas, and 30 more from bullet wounds. Two chemical companies used the unrest as an opportunity to test and sell their wares.  Joseph Roush, from Federal Laboratories, shot a long-range tear gas shell at the strikers. He then told his company, “I might mention that during one of the riots, I shot a long-range projectile into a group, a shell hitting one man and causing a fracture of the skull, from which he has since died. As he was a Communist, I have had no feeling in the matter and I am sorry that I did not get more.” – 1934

The National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, was signed by President Roosevelt. This statute guarantees the basic right of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining for better terms and conditions at work, and to take collective action including striking when necessary. The act also created the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts elections that can require employers to engage in collective bargaining with labor unions. The Act does not apply to workers who are covered by the Railway Labor Act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, federal, state, or local government workers, independent contractors and some close relatives to individual employers. – 1935

Eleven firefighters and one railway employee were killed in an explosion in Kingman, Arizona., as propane was being transferred from a railroad car to a storage tank. – 1973

Rebel Longshoreman, writer and Wobbly Gilbert Mers (1908-1998) died. Mers wrote the book “Working the Waterfront: The Ups and Downs of a Rebel Longshoreman” in which he exposed the Texas Rangers of the 1930s and 1940s as legalized strike-breaking bullies. – 1998

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