Today in Labor History – November 17th

Martin Irons

Martin Irons

The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen was founded on this date in 1785 in a tavern in New York City. The Society, which still exists today, created a library, clubhouse, bank and school for their apprentices, mechanics, tradesmen and their families. – 1785

Martin Irons died near Waco, Texas. Born in Dundee, Scotland, he emigrated to the U.S. at age 14. He joined the Knights of Labor and in 1886 led a strike of 200,000 workers against the Jay Gould-owned Union Pacific and Missouri Click To Tweetrailroad. The strike was crushed, Irons was blacklisted and he died broken-down and penniless. Said Mother Jones: “The capitalist class hounded him as if he had been a wild beast.” – 1900

To the huge relief of Post Office Department employees, the service set a limit of 200 pounds a day to be shipped by any one customer. Builders were finding it cheaper to send supplies via post than via wagon freight. In one instance, 80,000 bricks for a new bank were shipped parcel post from Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah, 170 miles away. The new directive also barred the shipment of humans: a child involved in a couple’s custody fight was shipped—for 17¢—from Stillwell to South Bend, Indiana, in a crate labeled “live baby” – 1916

Ben Reitman, hobo organizer, anarchist and one time partner of Emma Goldman, died on this date. Reitman served as a doctor for hobos and the downtrodden and participated in numerous free speech fights and anarchist causes, getting beaten, tarred and feathered, jailed, and run out of town for his troubles, most notably during the San Diego free speech fight. He also wrote the book, Boxcar Bertha. – 1942

With many U.S. political leaders gripped by the fear of communism and questioning citizen loyalties in the years following World War II, the Screen Actors Guild voted to force its officers to take a “non-communist” pledge. A few days earlier the Hollywood Ten had been called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. – 1947

The National Football League Association, which represents the nation’s professional football players, ended a strike that lasted 57 days. The labor action was effective: while it was ongoing, not a single major league football game was played. Because of the strike, the football season lasted only nine games per team, an almost 50 percent reduction from the originally scheduled 16. The players were demanding a percentage of profit revenues, which the NFL refused. Eventually, the players won a new contract, which provided an increase in salaries and post-season pay, as well as bonuses and severance packages for retiring players. – 1982

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 234 for, 200 against. It passed in the U.S. Senate by 61 for, 38 against. President Bill Clinton signed the agreement into law on December 8, 1993, stating that “NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs”. What it actually meant was job losses, decreased wages, and attacks on public interest laws. –  1993

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