Today in Labor History – April 12th

Florence Reece

A group of “puddlers”,  craftsmen who manipulate pig iron to create steel, met in a Pittsburgh bar and formed The Iron City Forge of the Sons of Vulcan. It was the strongest union in the U.S. in the 1870s, later merging with two other unions to form what was to be the forerunner of the United Steel Workers. – 1858

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Florence Reece, an activist in the Harlan County, Kentucky coal strikes, and author of the song Which Side Are You On? was born on this date.” quote=”Florence Reece, an activist in the Harlan County, Kentucky coal strikes, and author of the song Which Side Are You On? was born on this date.”] The song was written in 1931 during a UMW strike in which sheriff Blair led a gang of thugs in a rampage, beating and murdering union leaders. Florence wrote the song on an old wall calendar while her home was being ransacked by Blair’s goons. – 1900

Which Side Are You On?  

      Come all of you good workers
      Good news to you I’ll tell
      Of how that good old union
      Has come in here to dwell

      Chorus
      Which side are you on?
      Which side are you on?
      Which side are you on?
      Which side are you on?

      My daddy was a miner
      And I’m a miner’s son
      And I’ll stick with the union
      Till every battle’s won

      They say in Harlan County
      There are no neutrals there
      You’ll either be a union man
      Or a thug for J.H. Blair

      Oh, workers can you stand it?
      Oh, tell me how you can
      Will you be a lousy scab
      Or will you be a man?

      Don’t scab for the bosses
      Don’t listen to their lies
      Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
      Unless we organize

The Union Label and Service Trades Department was founded by the American Federation of Labor. Its mission was to promote the products and services of union members. – 1909

Attempting to relieve striking pickets at the Garfield, New Jersey mill of Forstmann and Huffmann, twenty “girl millworkers were beaten when they did not move fast enough to suit” thirty special deputies who ordered them off the site, according to a news report. – 1912

Chris Turner was born in Floyd, Virginia. He went on to become a NASCAR driver and attempted, along with Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock, to organize the other drivers into a union in 1961 in the hope of better purses, a share in broadcasting rights and retirement benefits for the drivers. He was banned by NASCAR and was unsuccessful when he sued for reinstatement. The court said he was an individual contractor, not an employee of NASCAR or any track. – 1924

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, upheld the Wagner Act in a series of decisions involving five separate cases. The most significant was probably the case involving Jones & Laughlin Steel Company, in which Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote the majority decision approving the Wagner Act as falling under the Congress’ constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. The Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act, created the structure for collective bargaining in the United States. – 1937

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