IBEW Local 131 Information Center




This Week In Labor History


This Week In Labor History
May 16
Minneapolis general strike backs Teamsters, who are striking most of the city’s trucking companies - 1934

U.S. Supreme Court issues Mackay decision, which permits the permanent replacement of striking workers. The decision had little impact until Ronald Regan’s replacement of striking air traffic controllers (PATCO) in 1981, a move that signaled antiunion private sector employers that it was OK to do likewise - 1938


Black labor leader and peace activist A. Philip Randolph dies. He was president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and first black on the AFL-CIO executive board, and a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington – 1979 (for more on Randolph, check out A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait in the UCS bookstore)

May 17
First women’s anti-slavery conference, Philadelphia - 1838

Supreme Court outlaws segregation in public schools - 1954

Twelve Starbucks baristas in a mid-town Manhattan store, declaring they couldn’t live on $7.75 an hour, signed cards demanding representation by the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies. Management roadblocks continue to deny the workers their union to this day - 2004 (For more on the IWW, check out Solidarity Forever: An Oral History of the IWW in the UCS bookstore)

May 18
In what may have been baseball’s first labor strike, the Detroit Tigers refuse to play after team leader Ty Cobb is suspended: he went into the stands and beat a fan who had been heckling him. Cobb was reinstated and the Tigers went back to work after the team manager’s failed attempt to replace the players with a local college team: their pitcher gave up 24 runs - 1912

Amalgamated Meat Cutters union organizers launch a campaign in the nation’s packinghouses, an effort that was to bring representation to 100,000 workers over the following two years - 1917

Big Bill Haywood, a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), dies in exile in the Soviet Union - 1928

Atlanta transit workers, objecting to a new city requirement that they be fingerprinted as part of the employment process, go on strike. They relented and returned to work six months later - 1950

Insurance Agents International Union and Insurance Workers of America merge to become Insurance Workers International Union (later to merge into the UFCW) - 1959

Oklahoma jury finds for the estate of atomic worker Karen Silkwood, orders Kerr-McGee Nuclear Co. to pay $505,000 in actual damages, $10 million in punitive damages for negligence leading to Silkwood’s plutonium contamination – 1979 (for more on Silkwood, check out The Killing of Karen Silkwood in the UCS bookstore)

May 19
Explosion in Coal Creek, Tenn. kills 184 miners - 1902

Shootout in Matewan, W. Va. between striking union miners (led by Police Chief Sid Hatfield) and coal company agents. Ten died, including seven agents - 1920

Gas explosion in a Mather, Pennsylvania, coal mine kills 195. - 1928

The Steel Workers Organizing Committee, formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, formally becomes the United Steelworkers of America - 1942

31 dockworkers are killed, 350 workers and others are injured when four barges carrying 467 tons of ammunition blow up at South Amboy, New Jersey. They were loading mines that had been deemed unsafe by the Army and were being shipped to the Asian market for sale - 1950


May 20
The Railway Labor Act took effect today. It was the first federal legislation protecting workers’ rights to form unions - 1926

9,000 rubber workers strike in Akron, Ohio - 1933

May 21
Italian activists and anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, widely believed to have been framed for murder, go on trial today. They eventually are executed as part of a government campaign against dissidents – 1921

The "Little Wagner Act" is signed in Hawaii, guaranteeing pineapple and sugar workers the right to bargain collectively. After negotiations failed a successful 79-day strike shut down 33 of the territory’s 34 plantations and brought higher wages and a 40-hour week - 1945

Nearly 100,000 unionized SBC Communications Inc. workers begin a four-day strike to protest the local phone giant’s latest contract offer - 2004


May 22
Eugene V. Debs imprisoned in Woodstock, Ill. for role in Pullman strike - 1895 (for more on Debs, check out The Bending Cross: A Biography of Eugene V. Debs
in the UCS bookstore)

Civil Service Retirement Act of 1920 gives federal workers a pension - 1920

White firemen on the Georgia Railroad strike against the hiring of blacks. A New York Times correspondent reports that there is much violence against the black firemen, coming not from the strikers but from "citizens along the line of the road, who object to the preference given negroes over white men." -1909

The Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (CIO’s) Steel Workers Organizing Committee is disbanded at a Cleveland convention and immediately succeeded by the workers’ new union, the United Steel Workers of America. - 1942


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