top of page

This week in labor history

“You are the ones who can say the word ‘Solidarity’ and call each other ‘Brother and Sister’. The oppressor can claim nothing but his greed.” -Mother Jones, Legendary Labor Leader, school teacher, Knights of Labor and United Mine Workers organizer, IWW co-founder

Wednesday, Jan 12:

Novelist Jack London is born. His classic definition of a scab - someone who would cross a picket line and take a striker’s job: “After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles”. -1876

President John F. Kennedy signs Executive Order 10988, guaranteeing federal workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively. -1962

Thursday, Jan 13:

The original Tompkins Square Riot. As unemployed workers demonstrated in New York’s Tompkins Square Park, a detachment of mounted police charged into the crowd, beating men, women and children with billy clubs. Declared Abram Duryee, the Commissioner of Police: “It was the most glorious sight I ever saw...” -1874

IWW organizer and singer/songwriter Joe Hill is falsely accused and arrested for killing two men during a grocery store hold-up in Utah. He ultimately is executed by firing squad (His last word was “Fire!”) despite overwhelming evidence that he was framed and condemned solely for his association with the Industrial Workers of the World. When he was arrested was smiling and joked “I’m feeling pretty smart, and I’m also thinking about what I am going to do with that money at the end of the year.” -1914

Friday, Jan 14:

A Brooklyn trolley strike began on this date (lasting until Feb. 28). The militia was called out and martial law declared in order to suppress it. Members of the Knights of Labor battled militiamen in the streets. -1895

14,000 General Electric employees strike for two days to protest the company’s mid-contract decision to shift an average of $400 in additional health care co-payments onto each worker. -2003

Saturday, Jan 15:

Wobbly Ralph Chaplin, in Chicago for a demonstration against hunger, completes the writing of the labor anthem

“Solidarity Forever” on this date. He’d begun writing it in 1914 during a miner’s strike in Huntington, W. Va. -1915

Martin Luther King Jr. born on this day. People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. -1929

Sunday, Jan 16:

Thousands of Palmer Raids detainees win the right to meet with lawyers and attorney representation at deportation hearings. “Palmer” was the anti-Union U.S. attorney general under Woodrow Wilson. Palmer falsely accused unions of being “Communists” and used the public’s fear of Communism to crush the American Labor movement on behalf of the corporations. The offices of the IWW were raided and thousands of Wobblies (IWW members) were held without trial hundred were forcefully deported from the “land of the free”. -1920

Former UAW President Leonard Woodcock dies in Ann Arbor, Mich., at age 89. He had succeeded Walter Reuther and led the union from 1970 to 1977. -2001

Monday, Jan 17:

“Radical” labor organizer Lucy Parsons leads hunger march in Chicago on this day. (Her late husband, who was heavily involved in campaigning for the 8-hour day, had been arrested, tried and executed on November 11, 1887, by the state of Illinois.) In 1905 she participated in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Her feminism, which analyzed women’s oppression as a function of Capitalism, was founded on working class values. Later Lucy focused on the class struggles around poverty and unemployment, and she organized the Chicago Hunger Demonstrations. -1915

Right-Wing Segregationists assault Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama, as he registers as the first black guest in a hotel built a century earlier with slave labor. -1965

Tuesday, Jan 18:

U.S. Supreme Court (in order to protect company profits, low wages and deadly working conditions) rules in Moyer v. Peabody that a governor and officers of a state National Guard may imprison anyone (in the case at hand, striking miners in Colorado) without probable cause “in a time of insurrection” and deny the person the right of appeal. -1909

New York Times reports Wal-Mart Stores and Sams Clubs lock in their night shift workers with no key leaving them no chance of escape in case of emergencies. -2004

This Week in Labor History is compiled by Kevin D. Curtis.

bottom of page