Today in Labor History – July 14th

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, sometimes referred to as “The Great Upheaval” began today in Martinsburg, West Virginia, after the B&O Railroad cut wages were the third time in a year. Riots spread through 17 states. An estimated 100 people were killed in the 45 strikes. Workers burned down and destroyed both physical facilities and rolling stock of the railroads. Local populations feared that workers were rising in revolutions, such as the Paris Commune of 1871. At the time, the workers were not represented by unions. The city and state governments quickly organized armed militias to fight the workers, aided by the national guard, federal troops and private militias organized by the railroads. Disruption was widespread and at its height, the strikes were supported by about 100,000 workers. With the intervention of federal troops, most of the strikes were suppressed by early August. – 1877

Woody Guthrie was born today in Okemah, Oklahoma. Woody was a singer-songwriter whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, folk, and children’s songs. He frequently performed with the slogan “This machine kills fascists” displayed on his guitar. His best-known song is “This Land Is Your Land”. – 1912

Italian immigrants and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Massachusetts of murder and payroll robbery – unfairly, most historians agree – after a two-month trial, and are eventually executed. Fifty years after their deaths the state’s governor issued a proclamation saying they had been treated unfairly and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names.” – 1921

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