Today in Labor History February 11, 2020

“Unrest” in Wisconsin

500 Japanese and 200 Mexican laborers united to form the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA) in order to fight the labor contractor responsible for hiring at the American Beet Sugar Company in Oxnard, California. They refused to work until their grievances were addressed and by the first week in March, over 90% of the county’s beet industry labor force has joined the JMLA, bringing the sugar industry to a standstill. They ultimately won higher wages and the right to shop at stores not owned by the company. – 1903

Japanese and Mexican workers unite, Firestone walks off the job, Seattle General Strike ended, GM recognized the UAW, sanitation strike starts in Memphis and more. Click To Tweet

Workers at the Firestone factory walked off the job over the imposition of a new piece-rate scale. Four days later, nearly 15,000 workers were on strike in the city. – 1913

The Seattle General Strike ended after six days. Some 65,000 workers struck for higher pay after two years of World War I wage controls. – 1919

2,000 unemployed workers stormed the Cleveland City Hall, dispersing only when the police threaten to turn fire hoses on them. With over 4 million jobs lost within months of the stock market crash in late October 1929, unemployed workers took to the streets to demand work and food. Similar actions happened in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles throughout just this month alone. – 1930

General Motors recognized the United Auto Workers (UAW) following a 44-day sit-down strike involving 48,000 GM workers. Two months later, company guards beat up UAW leaders at the River Rouge, Michigan plant. – 1937

On this day, “White Shirt Day” was implemented at UAW-represented GM plants.  Union members were encouraged to wear white shirts, marking the anniversary of the 1937 sitdown strike that gave the union bargaining rights at the automaker. The mission: send a message that “blue collar” workers deserve the same respect as their management counterparts.  One of the day’s traditional rules: Don’t get your shirt any dirtier than the boss gets his. The 44-day strike was won in 1937 but the tradition didn’t begin until 1948, at the suggestion of Local 598 member Bert Christenson. – 1948

Some 1,300 sanitation workers began what was to become a 64-day strike in Memphis, Tennessee. They ultimately won union recognition and wage increases. The April 4 assassination in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr., who had been taking an active role in mass meetings and street actions, brought pressure on the city to settle the strike. – 1968

Eight workers were contaminated when 100,000 gallons of radioactive coolant leaked into a containment building of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Sequoyah I plant in Tennessee. – 1981

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced he would call out the National Guard if necessary, to deal with any “unrest” among state employees in the wake of his decision to unilaterally end nearly all collective bargaining rights for the workers. – 2011

2,600 educators from 160 schools walked out in Denver, Colorado over the merit-based pay system that relies heavily on annual bonuses that fluctuate from year to year. After 3 days of picketing, they won an average of an 11.7% pay raise, and an emphasis on education and training when considering promotions. – 2019

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