Born Joyce Dannen in Chicago, Illinois on June 19, 1928. She was a strong advocate for women's issues and a dedicated trade unionist. Miller went on to receive bachelor and master degrees from the University of Chicago. In 1952 she married trade unionist Jay A. Miller and eventually had three chidren. In 1962 she started serving as the education director and later as vice-president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA). In 1974 she was a co-founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and later served as it's president. By 1980 Miller was the first woman to be elected to the executive board of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). In 1993 she was appointed to head the Glass Ceiling Commission by U.S. President Bill Clinton and served as an advisor to U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich. Miller also worked for the Labor Department's Wage Appeals Board adjudicating disputes until her retirement in 1998. On June 30, 2012 in Washington, D.C., at the age of 84, Joyce Miller died from a stroke.
Cesar Estrada Chavez was born March 31st, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona. In 1939 he and his family moved to a barrio in San Jose, California. At a young age he started to toil as a migrant farm worker and by age fifteen was working full time. From 1944 to 1946 he served in the United Sates Navy stationed in the Western Pacific. By 1948 he was married to a woman he met working in the fields and eventually was the father of eight children. In 1952 a community organizer named Fred Ross befriends Cesar and persuades him to join and to work as an organizer with the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights group. By 1962 Chavez leaves the CSO and along with his friend, a woman named Dolores Huerta become the founders of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) that in 1965 joins with the Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), a group with membership of mostly Filipino-Americans, in a strike against Delano-area, California grape growers. The NFWA merges with AWOC in 1966 and becomes the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) and by 1972 is officially renamed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). Chavez led successful strikes and boycotts that resulted in grape and produce growers signing contracts with the NFWA, then subsequently with the UFW and he served as president of the organization until his death. Cesar died in his sleep on April 23rd, 1993. The UFW has been leading a drive to have legislation passed to create a Cesar Chavez National Holiday.
Born Addie L. Cameron on March 28, 1924 in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Her parents, hoping for a better life and job opportunities moved the family to Chicago, Illinois. But living and growing up along with her seven brothers and sisters in Chicago, was not easy. By 1940 she married Claude S. Wyatt Jr. and they eventually had two children. In 1941 she started working as a meat packer, joined the union, and by 1953 was serving as Vice-President of Local 56 of the United Packinghouse and Food and Alliance Workers Union, which would evolve into the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). In 1955 Wyatt became an ordained minister in the Church of God and as a civil rights activist was involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Chicago Freedom Movement, the National Organization for Women, and the People United to Serve Humanity. In 1974 Wyatt was a co-founder of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and in 1976 began serving as an international vice-president of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters union and through a merger, with the United Food and Commercial Workers until 1984. Addie was included in the Time magazine American Women, Women of the Year for 1975 and in 2005 was an inductee into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Addie Wyatt died, in Chicago, on March 28, 2012. On May 08, 2012 she was the first African-American woman to be inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor of the United States Department of Labor.
Jerome Wurf was born in New York City, New York on May 18, 1919 to immigrant parents from Austria and Hungary. At the age of 4 years old he developed polio, but his medical condition did not prevent him from eventually becoming an aggressive and dedicated labor leader. After graduating high school and attending New York University he obtained a job as a cafeteria cashier and as an organizer for the Hotel and Restaurant Union. By 1947 Wurf was hired as an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 37 in New York City and rose through the ranks to become its director. He also became deeply involved in the civil rights movement and was an ally of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1958 Wurf successfully fought for the right of the union to be the exclusive bargainig agent for the city workers when Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. issued Executive Order 49. By 1964 Jerry Wurf was elected President of the national AFSCME succeding Arnold Zander, a position he held unitl his death. The AFSCME union evolved from the Wisconsin State Administrative, Clerical, Fiscal, and Technical Employees Association in 1935 and its first president was Arnold Zander. Jerry Wurf died of a heart attack on December 10, 1981 in Washington, D.C.
James Riddle Hoffa was born February 14th, 1913 in Brazil, Indiana. A few years after the death of his father, his mother moved the family to Detroit, Michigan. At the age of seventeen he took a job in a Kroger company warehouse, where he organized the workers and a strike. He eventually became an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Hoffa went on to serve as the Chairman of the Central States Drivers Council and President of Local 299 and the Michigan Conference of Teamsters. After serving as an International vice-president, he was elected President of the IBT in 1959. Under his leadership the union's health and medical benefits were improved and he fought for the first nationwide contract in the trucking industry. Hoffa was constantly dogged by government investigations and was eventually sentenced to federal prison. In 1971 U.S. President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence and he was released. In July of 1975 he mysteriously disappeared when he was to attend a meeting at a Detroit suburb restaurant. Although he has been declared legally dead, the case remains unsolved.
William George Meany was born August 16th, 1894 in New York City, New York. As a teenager George started working as a plumbers apprentice and later joined the plumbers union, United Association of Journeyman Plumbers, Gas Fitters and Steamfitters and Steamfitters Helpers of the United States and Canada (UA) and worked as a business agent for Local 463. From 1934 to 1939, Meany served as President of the New York Federation of Labor. He was elected as secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1939 and as its president from 1952 to 1955. When the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) merged with the AFL, he served as President of the AFL-CIO to 1979. During 1951 he was a member of the executive board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Furthermore, during World War II George Meany was a member of the National War Labor Board. After he retired as President of the AFL-CIO he was replaced by Lane Kirkland. Meany died January 10th, 1980.
Walter Philip Reuther was born September 1st, 1907 in Wheeling, West Virginia. At the age of sixteen he started working in steel mills and later went to work in automobile factories in Detroit, Michigan. In 1935 he joined Local 174 of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and eventually elected president. In 1936 he helped organize one of the first sit down strikes and a year later during another strike he was beaten by Ford Company goons. By 1942 Walter was elected vice-president of the United Auto Workers national union and in 1946 he became president. In 1948 he was again targeted when an unknown thug fired a shotgun blast through the window of his home in Detroit. Under his leadership of the UAW the membership grew to about 1.5 million and as an excellent negotiator he won numerous benefits for the members. In 1952 Reuther assumed the presidency of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and through his negotiations with George Meany, by 1955, the CIO merged with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). On May 10th, 1970 in Michigan, Brother Reuther was killed in an airplane crash.
Alfred Renton Bridges was born on July 28th, 1901 in Melbourne, Australia. He became a seaman as a young teenager and in 1920 at the age of nineteen years old he shipped out on the barkentine "Ysabel" to the port of San Francisco on the West Coast of the United States. After some problems with the skipper about the treatment of sailors he left the crew and legally entered the U.S. and eventually became associated with the Sailors Union of the Pacific and the Industrial Workers of the World. He continued to work as a seamen but also for a short period of time he had worked in the oil fields. In the latter part of 1922 he obtained a job as a longshoreman in San Francisco and became involved with the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA). Between 1924-27 he was blacklisted by the company controlled "Blue Book" union and had a hard time going from dock to dock trying to find work. In 1932 Bridges aligned himself with other dockworkers organized as the Albion Hall Group which advocated militant action on the docks. Working on the docks was very hazardous with very low pay and Bridges wanted to change that. He also wanted to stop kickbacks to the bosses, shape-up hiring, and have a workers controlled hiring hall. In May of 1934, longshoremen along with warehouse workers in the West Coast ports walked off the job and unfortunately in July some striking workers were shot down and the tragedy became known as "Bloody Thursday". But the strike was successful. In 1937 Harry was the founder of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) of which he served as its president for forty years. Over a twenty-year period he had to endure many legal hassles because of the federal governments attempt to have him deported. Harry Bridges died on March 30th, 1990 and his ashes were scattered over San Francisco Bay.
Philip Murray was born in Blantyre, Scotland on May 25th, 1886. His father was a coal miner and a labor activist and he took Philip to union meetings. By the age of ten Philip joined him working in the mines. In 1902 Philip and his father emigrated to the United States moving to Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania. While working in the coal mines he got into an altercation with a weigh boss and helped lead a strike against the coal company. He not only lost his job and living quarters but was evicted from the county. He obtained a job at a coal mine near Pittsburgh and was eventually elected president of the local union of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). By 1912 he was appointed to the union's national executive board and a few years later was elected President of UMWA District 5 which jurisdiction was Western Pennsylvania. In 1917 John L. Lewis who was then President of the UMWA appointed Murray vice-president and Murray continued to work for the mine workers until 1942. In 1936 Lewis appointed Murray as chairman of the newly created Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). At the 1938 convention of the newly established Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), he was elected a vice-president and two years later assumed the organization's presidency. By 1942 he became president of a new union called the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) and held that office until his death. Philip Murray died on November 9th, 1952.
Asa Philip Randolph was born April 15th 1889 in Crescent City, Florida. The Randolph family moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1891 where Philip eventually attended and graduated from an academic high school. In 1911 he moved to New York City and within a few years he married Lucille E. Green. Randolph became active in the local socialist party and by 1917 he was publishing and editing the politically radical Messenger magazine and organized a union for elevator operators. In 1925 an organization was formed called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which comprised some of the workers of the Pullman Company and Randolph was elected president. For the next ten years he worked hard signing up the porters and battling the Pullman bosses, and he finally won certification of the union as the workers collective bargaining agent. Philip went on to direct the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his famous speech. He retired as president of the Sleeping Car Porters in 1968 and formed the A. Philip Randolph Institute. He died in New York City on May 16th, 1979.
Ralph Hosea Chaplin was born in 1887 in Ames, Kansas. In 1893 his family moved to Chicago, Illinois where he eventually toiled in a variety of odd-jobs before becoming a writer and labor activist. In 1912-13 he assisted Mary Harris "Mother" Jones during a strike by coal miners in West Virginia. Chaplin joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union and became the editor of their Solidarity and Industrial Worker newspapers. Chaplin served four years in prison after a government round-up of over 100 IWW members and in 1923 he was justifiably pardoned. Years later after moving to Tacoma, Washington he edited the local Labor Advocate paper. Chaplin's autobiography, Wobbly: The Rough-and-Tumble Story of an American Radical was published in 1948. Through out the years he wrote a number of labor related poems, songs, and created illustrations which were used in the various publications and pamphlets. But Ralph Chaplin is best known for writing the song "Solidarity Forever" in 1915 and which is sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body" / "Battle Hymn of the Republic". The labor movement adopted this song as its anthem, that was, and still is sung at union meetings, rallies, and on the picket line. Chaplin died in 1961.
Born Fannie Coralie Perkins on April 10th, 1880 in Boston, Massachusetts. Shortly after her birth her family moved to the town of Worcester where she subsequently attended Worcester Classical High School and in 1902 completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College. Perkins went on to attend Columbia University where she earned an M.A. degree and in 1918, Wharton College. At the age of twenty-five she legally changed her first name to Frances. By 1911 in New York City she was serving on the Factory Investigation Commission and served on committees that investigated the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. She served as New York State Labor Commissioner and in 1933 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Perkins U.S. Secretary of Labor. This made Francis Perkins the first woman to hold a cabinet position and which she held for the next twelve years. During her career she was involved with important worker reforms including minimum wage, hours worked, unemployment compensation, the Social Security Act, and the Public Works Administration. After her prestigious government service on behalf of workers she joined the faculty at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations of Cornell University in 1958. At the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. the building is named in her honor. She died on May 14th, 1965.
The date April 20th, 1914 will forever be a day of infamy for American workers. On that day, 20 innocent men, women and children were killed in the Ludlow Massacre. The coal miners in Colorado and other western states had been trying to join the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) for many years. They were bitterly opposed by the coal operators, led by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. Upon striking, the miners and their families had been evicted from their company-owned houses and had set up a tent colony on public property. The massacre occurred in a carefully planned attack on the tent colony by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, and thugs hired as private detectives and strike breakers. They shot and burned to death 20 people, including a dozen women and small children. Later investigations revealed that kerosene had intentionally been poured on the tents to set them ablaze. The miners had dug foxholes in the tents so the women and children could avoid the bullets that randomly were shot through the tent colony by company thugs. The women and children were found huddled together at the bottoms of their tents. The Baldwin Felts Detective Agency had been brought in to suppress the Colorado miners. They brought with them an armored car mounted with a machine gun-the Death Special-that roamed the area spraying bullets. The day of the massacre the miners were celebrating Greek Easter. At 10:00 AM the militia ringed the camp and began firing into the tents upon a signal from the commander, Lt. Karl E. Lindenfelter. Not one of the perpetrators were ever punished, but scores of miners and their leaders were arrested and black-balled from the coal industry.--A monument erected by the United Mine Workers of America stands today in Ludlow, Colorado in remembrance of the brave and innocent souls who died for freedom and human dignity.
Source: United Mine Workers of America - A Brief History
In the winter of 1913 more than 24,000 men, women, and children marched out of Paterson, New Jersey's silk mills calling for decent working conditions, an end to child labor, and an eight hour day. From January to July, constant mass arrests and hostile city authorities threatened the safety of the strikers and their families. Pietro and Maria Botto offered their home overlooking a green as a meeting place for the strikers. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Upton Sinclair, and other champions of the cause of labor spoke from the second floor balcony to workers of many nationalities. The American Labor Museum, with headquarters in the historic Botto House National Landmark, is located in Haledon, New Jersey which is approximately 25 miles west of New York City. Pictured at left is Sol Stetin (1910-2005) who served as president of the former Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) and had the pivotal role in the founding of the museum. For information about tours, etc., call 973-595-7291
Joe Hill, arriving in New York City after immigrating from Sweden in 1902, worked in factories and mines, and on farms and waterfronts as he traveled from the east coast to San Pedro, California, where he joined the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1913, journeying east again-probably via freight train-Hill stopped to work in the mines of Utah. While in that state he was arrested, tried, and convicted of murdering a Salt Lake City grocer. Joe Hill's execution by a Utah firing squad in November of 1915 was preceded by appeals for clemency from thousands of sympathizers and such notables as Samuel Gompers-President of the American Federation of Labor, W.A.F. Ekengren-Swedish Minister to the United States, and President Woodrow Wilson. Since then, the Joe Hill story has become legend. To a large extent it was the legacy of his songs. If Joe Hill were to return to earth he probably still would be writing songs about "Pie in the Sky." For despite the Square Deals, the New Freedoms, the New Deals, the New Frontier, and the Great Society, the goal of rendering people secure from the dread of war and the fear of want in a democratic society has not been realized. It was this spirit of the future that animated Joe Hill and other rebels in the I.W.W. and was capsulated in Joe Hill's famous sentence, still used in radical rhetoric today: "Don't Mourn, Organize". Although the I.W.W.'s most talented and prolific songwriter was Joe Hill, other contributors included Richard Brazier, Ralph Chaplin, Covington Hall, and Laura Payne Emerson. I.W.W. songs were sung on picket lines, in hobo jungles, at mass meetings, at free speech demonstrations- wherever members gathered to agitate for a new world "built from the ashes of the old. The I.W.W. emerged as a result of two forces: the frustration of eastern radicals who wished to influence the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor toward their socialist ideas, and the militant philosophy of the Western Federation of Miners. The most important strikes which the I.W.W. directed or took part in include the Goldfield, Nevada miners' strike of 1906-1907, the Lawrence, Mass. textile workers strike of 1912, a lumber workers' strike in the same year in Louisiana and Arkansas, the Paterson, New Jersey silk mill workers' strike of 1913, and the iron workers' strike on the Masabi Range in Minnesota in 1916. Although the organization never had more than about 100,000 members at the peak of its activities, it shook the nation with an impact disproportionate to its size. During the depression, the I.W.W. joined with organizations of unemployed workers to set up unemployment unions to provide housing and food for the jobless. Throughout 1932 and 1933, I.W.W. organization and agitation in Detroit added impetus to the growing unrest of auto workers suffering from layoffs, wage cuts, and tensions of speed-up in the auto plants. Soapboxing, leafleting, a weekly radio program, and weekend socials in the Detroit I.W.W. hall provided the growth of a skeleton organization in some of the large auto plants which helped spur quickie strikes in the Briggs, Hudson, and Murray body plants. Some of the I.W.W. organizers moved on to Cleveland where during the next few years, they organized members in several foundries and metal shops. Shops organized in 1934, such as the American Stove Company, were still in the I.W.W. in 1950, the longest record of collective bargaining in the I.W.W.'s history. The I.W.W. persists to the present day, and its newspaper as lively and provocative as former I.W.W. publications.
Source: Joe Hill...by Gibbs M. Smith, Publisher
Rachel Rose Schneiderman was born in Savin, Poland on April 6th, 1882. Rose and her family immigrated to the United States in 1890 and settled in the Lower East Side of New York City. A couple of years later her father died and later her mother lost one of her jobs so she had to quit school at the age of thirteen to go to work as a department store salesgirl. Three years later she obtained a better paying job as a cap maker and by 1903 she organized the women workers into a local of the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers' Union. In 1905 Schneiderman was invovled in a city-wide capmakers strike and joined the National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) and by 1906 was elected as vice-president of the New York branch. Subsequently, Schneiderman served as president of the New York branch from 1918-1949 and as president of the National League from 1926-1950. She left her garment factory job in 1908 and went to work as a WTUL organizer. Also in 1908 she helped organize and began to serve as the first president of the Underwear and White Goods Workers Union, which became Local 62 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Beginning in 1914 and for approximately two years she was an organizer for the ILGWU. Other accomplishments and activities of Schneiderman included working on behalf of the women's suffrage movement, being appointed to the Labor Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and serving as secretary of the New York State Department of Labor. Rose Schneiderman died on August 11, 1972 in New York City.
John Llewellyn Lewis was born February 12th, 1880 in the town of Lucas, Iowa. At the age of sixteen he started working in the mines and eventually became the Recording-Secretary of Local 1933 of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Not long after John and his wife moved to Panama, Illinois in 1908, he was elected President of UMWA Local 1475. Around 1910 Samuel Gompers appointed John an organizer with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1917 he was appointed vice-president of the mine workers national union and within a few years he became president after Frank Hayes resigned. He held that position for forty years. In 1935 he withdrew the mineworkers from the American Federation of Labor because of arguments about his plan to recruit and admit unskilled workers. He then created along with ten other unions the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and by 1938 served as its president. But by 1942 he withdrew the mineworkers from the CIO and by 1944 rejoined the AFL. Lewis retired as President of the United Mine Workers of America in 1960. John died on June 11th, 1969 in Alexandria, Virginia and was buried in Springfield, Illinois.
Mary Kenney was born January 8th, 1864 in Hannibal, Missouri. At the age of fourteen she began working in a book bindery. She was a very good worker learning all aspects of being a bookbinder and could not understand why she did not receive the same wages as her male co-workers. She was also concerned about poor working conditions within the factory. In 1889 Mary and her mother moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she eventually organized the Women's Bookbindery Union and became associated with the Hull House settlement where she met other women activists. In 1892 Samuel Gompers appointed Mary an organizer for the American Federation of Labor (AFL). By 1894, living in Boston, Massachusetts, she married journalist John O'Sullivan. In 1903, Mary, along with Bill Walling, Jane Addams, Florence Kelly and others, became the founders of the National Women's Trade Union League, with Kenney O'Sullivan serving as its first secretary. The League advocated for women's trade union rights, better pay and working conditions, and supporting women's strikes. From 1914 until 1934 she worked as a factory inspector in Massachusetts. Mary died on January 18th, 1943.
William D. Haywood was born on February 4th, 1869 in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the age of nine he lost his right eye in an accident and shortly thereafter he started to work at a mine in Nevada which continued through his teen years. Haywood married Jane Minor and tried his hand at other forms of work, but ended up returning to the mines and in the 1890s he became aware of how important a union was to mine workers. By 1896 in Idaho while working in a silver mine, he helped form Local 66 of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Haywood became an organizer for the WFM and was elected president of Local 66 in 1900 and in 1901 became secretary-treasurer of the national WFM. He also was the editor of the Miners' Magazine. In 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, Haywood joined with Eugene V. Debs, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, and others to form the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the "wobblies". Haywood served as the IWW secretary-treasurer and was involved in leading textile strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey. "Big Bill" Haywood died of a stroke on May 18th, 1928.
Born Fannie Mooney, 1872, in New Orleans, Louisiana. After moving to St. Louis, Missouri she married Charles Sellins and they had four children. After the death of her husband she went to work in a textile factory and helped organize and become the president of Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America (UGWA). Sellins was involved in negotiations for the women garment workers after they were locked-out by management. By 1913 she went to work as an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in West Virginia and later in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On August 26th, 1919 when in charge of picket duty for striking workers at Allegheny Coal and Coke Company she went to the aid of Joe Starzeleski, a miner that was being assaulted by company guards, deputy sheriffs, and was shot twice in the head and died. Two men that were charged with her murder went to trial and it ended in acquittal. In 1920 the UMWA erected a memorial in Union Cemetery at Arnold, Pennsylvania in memory of Fannie and Joe. Also, in 1989, her grave site was designated a state historic landmark.
Peter J. McGuire was born in New York City on July 6th, 1852 into an Irish-Catholic family. At the age of eleven he started to work at various jobs to help his family and around the age of fifteen he obtained a position as a apprentice piano maker. He became interested and involved in politics and the cause of labor. In New York City, 1873, he helped organize and lead the radical political group, Committee for Public Safety that fought for the rights of the unemployed, and later, the Social Democratic Party. By 1877 he relocated to St. Louis, Missouri and eventually organized a local union of carpenters. In 1881 McGuire and other carpenter union leaders from around the country met in Chicago, Illinois and thus the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBC) was born, electing McGuire as general-secretary. An office he held for the next twenty-one years. He was the leader in the creation of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU), serving as vice-president, that later evolved into the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in which he served as its first secretary-treasurer. He also was a member of the Knights of Labor organization. In New York, 1882, Peter McGuire and a machinist named Matthew McGuire are both credited with calling on workers and unions to hold a celebratory parade through the city to be held on the first Monday in September, resulting in the birth of Labor Day. In support and advocacy for the eight-hour work day, McGuire and others supported a general strike for May 1st, 1886, and the results of that day subsequently resulted in the creation of May Day, International Workers Day. By 1894 the U.S. Congress passed legislation making the first Monday in September, Labor Day, a legal holiday. McGuire died on February 18th, 1906 in New Jersey.
Eugene Victor Debs was born on November 5th, 1855 in Terre Haute, Indiana. At the age of fifteen he quit school and got a job in the train painting shop at Vandalia Railroad. For a few years he also worked for the railroads in St. Louis, Missouri. Around 1875 in Terre Haute Debs joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (BLF) Lodge 16 and was elected secretary. In 1880 he became the national Grand Secretary of the BLF and was appointed to the position of editor of the BLF Magazine. Debs was interested in politics, therefore in 1879 he ran for and won city clerk of Terre Haute. Then in 1884 he was elected to the Indiana legislature. After his stint as a state congressman he returned to the labor movement and in 1893 founded the American Railway Union (ARU). Because of his involvement with the Pullman Car strike and boycott he was found in violation of the Sherman Trust Act and sentenced to jail. In 1905 in Chicago, Illinois Debs joined with other labor leaders in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). From 1900 to 1920 Debs was a candidate for U.S. President five times. The last while serving a prison term because of his pacifism. His home which was built in 1890 in Terre Haute is a registered National Historic Landmark and houses the Debs Museum. Eugene Debs died on October 20th, 1926.
Mary Harris Jones was born in Ireland in 1830. She came to America as a young child, and later married a coal miner. All her family, her husband and her four children died in a yellow fever epidemic in 1867. So Mary Jones declared that the coal miners and working people everywhere were her children, and they accepted and loved her and called her Mother Jones. She traveled everywhere in support of workers' efforts to improve their lives. In 1903 she was in Philadelphia helping a group of textile workers who were striking a textile mill in the Kensington section of the city. She was deeply distressed to find that out of a total 75,000 textile workers, 10,000 were children, and that many of them worked long hours and had been injured by the mill machinery. The workers were striking for more pay and shorter hours. Every day little children came into the union headquarters, some with their fingers missing, some with a hand missing. Many of them were not over ten years of age, although the state law prohibited any child under the age of 12 from working. She organized a child labor march to New York City. The march had done its work. She had drawn the attention of the nation to the crime of child labor. And while the strike of the textile workers in Philadelphia was lost and the children driven back to work, not long afterward the Pennsylvania legislature passed a child labor law that sent thousands of children home from the mills.
Source: Sing a Song of Unsung Heroes and Heroines: Department of Labor Studies, Pennsylvania State University
William Bauchop Wilson was born in Scotland on April 2nd, 1862 and came to America with his parents soon after the Civil War. He worked with his father in the coal mines and was elected secretary of his local union when he was fifteen years old. In 1890 he worked with John Mitchell to set up a national union of coal miners, the United Mine Workers of America, and in 1902 he was elected national secretary of the union. Wilson was the first United States Secretary of the Department of Labor. He was appointed to that position by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 and was the first representative of working people to serve on a President's cabinet. After Woodrow Wilson became President, a number of reforms were instituted to aid workers. The Clayton Act was passed which stated that labor unions were not illegal. William Wilson worked to get this law passed. He also set up the U.S. Employment Service which helps unemployed workers find work and administers funds to pay them a part of their wages while they are looking for new jobs. He was Secretary of Labor during World War I, and created for the first time Boards with representatives from government, business, and labor. Wilson worked hard to see to it that workers were treated fairly and that labor would work hard to help win the war.
Source: Sing a Song of Unsung Heroes and Heroines: Department of Labor Studies, Pennsylvania State University
The year was 1877. A young union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), were organizing railroad enginemen nationally. The railroad companies including the Philadelphia and Reading were entering into the coal mining business. In the springtime of the year, many of the railroads including the P&R slashed the wages of the workers by 10 percent. There were rumors of a strike. Without any warning approximately 350 Reading engineers walked off the job. They were quickly replaced by scabs. The union then demanded that all the railroads in the eastern part of the country restore the 10 percent cut and come up with a 20 percent increase. The general-manager of the P&R informed the employees if they did not desert the union they would be fired. Some workers went back to the job. But many others became much more militant. By mid-July striking engine-men were demonstrating and rioting in Morgantown, West Virginia. A few days later the same thing happened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the militia was called in and 28 people were killed. On Sunday July 22 in Reading, Pennsylvania, unrest started to emerge. By evening a large group of strikers and others were gathering in the railroad yards. A train headed for Philly was blocked by the crowd and boxcars were set afire. The following day the strikers were back in the yards. What the union brothers did not know was that the President of the P&R sent a telegram to the state attorney-general asking for military help. Militia troops were mobilized in the City of Easton and put on a train for Reading. When they arrived at the outer station on North Sixth Street they were met by the P&R Coal and Iron police. The officials in charge decided to move the troops and police through the yards. The crowd was yelling and screaming and rocks were thrown. Suddenly a shot was fired. Then many shots were fired. After the smoke cleared, dozens lay wounded. Ten lay dead. No official investigation. The murderers walked away.
Terence V. Powderly, the son of irish immigrants, was born on January 22, 1849 in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. As a teenager his first job was working for the railroad, and then he eventually apprenticed in a machine shop. In 1871 he joined the Machinists and Blacksmiths National Union and by 1872 was elected a local president. A few years later he joined the Knights of Labor and by 1879 he attained the leadership position. Under his tenure the membership of the Knights of Labor rose to approximately 700,000. Powderly opposed strikes, opting for the more passive negotiations and boycotts, which caused internal quarreling and by 1893 he resigned from the union. He entered politics and served as Mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania from 1878-84 as a member of the Greenback Labor Party. He later held other appointed government positions including with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. Within his spare time he became a very talented photographer and studied law and was a successful attorney. The house in Scranton that he lived in for many years was designated a national historical landmark but is not open to the public. Terence Powderly died in 1924.
Samuel Gompers was born on January 27, 1850 in London, England. At a very young age he was an apprentice shoemaker, before moving on to the cigar making trade. In 1863 his family immigrated to the United States moving to the Lower East Side of New York City. By 1864 he joined the Cigar Makers International Union (CMIU) and later served as president of his local. He eventually went on to become vice-president of the International. He was a co-organizer of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) in 1881 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and served as its president. By 1886 the FOTLU evovled into the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Gompers was elected President and served in that capacity until 1924 (except for a one year hiatus, 1895). While serving on the International Commission on Labor Legislation at the Versailles Peace Conference in Paris, France in 1919, he was instrumental in the creation of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which is now an agency of the United Nations. Gompers died on December 13th, 1924 in San Antonio, Texas.
From the 1830s to the Civil War, workers experimented with various ideas to win more dignity and better conditions at the workplace. They formed political parties. They bought and operated their own factories, and they formed clubs and organizations to help members who were sick and out of work. The most important labor leader of this period was William H. Sylvis, who saw that unions would have to organize nationally if they were going to be effective. Sylvis was born in Armagh, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1828. William was the second son in a family of ten children. Times were hard for the Sylvis family. So at the age of eleven, William was placed with a family that agreed to support him in exchange for his work. When he became a teenager, he decided to become an iron molder. Iron molding was a dangerous job. The molders worked in foundries or furnaces. The workers lived in company homes and made all their purchases at the company store. He became active in the union and decided that the union should be national, not a local organization. He called a convention of all molders in the U.S. which met in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1859. By 1867 William had been elected to five terms as president and had built the most powerful labor union of his day. Just as he had seen the need for his own union to be organized on a national basis, he also thought there should be a national organization of all workers. In 1866, he helped to form the first national federation of labor: The National Labor Union (N.L.U.). In 1868 he was elected President of the N.L.U. In July of 1869, as he sat at his desk preparing his speech for the convention that was to meet in August, he became ill. Five days later, he died. He was forty-one years old. The N.L.U. was not able to continue for very long without the dedicated and unselfish leadership that Brother William had provided.
Source: Sing a Song of Unsung Heroes and Heroines: Department of Labor Studies, Pennsylvania State University
The first city central labor body was formed in Philadelphia in 1827. A central body is an organization of all the unions in a county or city. Each union sends a representative or delegate to the central labor body. The first central body grew out of the carpenters' efforts to obtain the ten-hour day. Like all central bodies ever since, they were concerned about politics. They formed a Workingman's Party which helped to elect Andrew Jackson President of the United States in 1828. One of the leaders of this first central body was William Heighton, a young shoemaker. William was born in England and came to America, like so many of our ancestors seeking a better life. He found a job as a shoemaker in the Southwork section of Philadelphia. In 1827 he wrote a pamphlet entitled, "An Address to the Members of Trade Societies and to the Working Class Generally." In the pamphlet he argued for free public schools. In his day, schools charged a fee which working people often could not afford. He also started a newspaper called the Mechanics Free Press and founded a library where workers could study and become familiar with the issues of the day. Heighton thought they should educate themselves by reading. Educated workers would be able to select and vote for candidates who would help them obtain a fair share of what they produced.
Source: Sing a Song of Unsung Heroes and Heroines: Department of Labor Studies, Pennsylvania State University
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