Today in Labor HIstory – August 3rd

Florence Reece
Florence Reece

Uriah Smith Stephens was born on this day in Cape May, New Jersey.  A tailor by trade, in 1869 he led nine Philadelphia garment workers to found the Knights of Labor, one of the more successful early unions. – 1821

Fighting broke out when sheriff’s deputies attempted to arrest Wobbly leader Richie “Blackie” Ford as he addressed striking field workers at the Durst Ranch in Wheatland, California. Four died in the so-called “Wheatland riots” when police fired into a crowd of California farmworkers trying to organize for better working conditions. Conditions were terrible with no water for the workers. They routinely contracted dysentery, malaria and typhoid fever.Two labor leaders, one of whom was not even present at the massacre, were later convicted of murder for encouraging workers to organize, which forced officials to shoot and kill.   – 1913

U.S. federal air traffic controllers began a nationwide strike after their union, PATCO, rejected the government’s final contract offer. Most of the 13,000 strikers ignored orders to go back to work and were fired on August 5 by President Reagan for participating in an illegal work stoppage. Reagan’s action – and the inability of the labor movement to respond to the crisis – led to the rapid downhill spiral of unions. – 1981

Labor activist and songwriter Florence Reece died. She had been active in Harlan County, Kentucky coal strikes and penned the famed labor song “Which Side Are You On?” The song was written in 1931 on an old wall calendar while Sheriff J.H. Blair was searching for her husband and ransacking her home. Blair had led his gang of thugs on a violent rampage, beating and murdering union leaders. – 1986

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