Today in Labor History March 15

1800s

Today in Labor History March 15, 1877: Ben Fletcher, African-American IWW organizer was born on this date. Fletcher organized longshoremen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Today in Labor History March 15, 1887: The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades was founded. Within a year, they had 7,000 members in 100 locals. Today they represent more than 160,000 members in the construction industry, such as Painters, Drywall Finishers, Glaziers, Floor Coverers, and Sign and Display workers.

1916

Today in Labor History March 15, 1916: President Woodrow Wilson sent 4,800 U.S. troops across the U.S.–Mexico border to hunt down Pancho Villa. He launched expedition in retaliation for Villa’s attack on the U.S. border town of Columbus, New Mexico. The expedition lasted nearly a year and they still failed to capture him. 65 U.S. soldiers and over 250 Mexican troops died in the fighting associated with the expedition.

The Eight-Hour Day

Today in Labor History March 15, 1917: The U.S. Supreme Court approved the 8-hour workday under the threat of a rail strike. In 1835, Philadelphia workers organized the first general strike in North America, led by Irish coal heavers, in the struggle for a 10-hour day. However, by 1836, labor movement publications were calling for an 8-hour day. In 1864, the 8-hour day became a central demand of the Chicago labor movement. In 1867, a citywide strike for the 8-hour day shut down the city’s economy for a week before falling apart. During the 1870s, eight hours became a central demand of the U.S. labor movement, with a network of 8-Hour Leagues forming across the nation. In 1872, 100,000 workers in New York City struck and won the eight-hour day.

The Fight for the 8-Hour Day in Chicago

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On May 1, 1886 Albert Parsons, head of the Chicago Knights of Labor, led 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue in the first modern May Day Parade, with workers chanting, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” Within days, 350,000 workers went on strike nationwide for the 8-hour day. On 3 May 1886, anarchist August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers Newspaper), spoke to 6,000 workers. Afterwards, they marched to the McCormick plant in Chicago to harass scab workers. The police arrived and opened fire, killing four and wounding many more. On May 4, workers protested this police violence at a meeting in Haymarket Square. An unknown assailant hurled a bomb at the police. The authorities rounded up hundreds of labor activists and anarchists. They convicted 8 in a kangaroo court and executed four of them, including Parsons and Spies.

In 1916, Congress passed the Adamson Act, establishing the 8-hour day for railroad workers. As with prior 8-hour laws, the bosses routinely violated the law until forced by the Supreme Court, 1917, to honor the rule.

1917-1918

Today in Labor History March 15, 1917: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated the throne, ending the 304-year Romanov dynasty. Russia suffered severe losses and economic privation during World War I. This led to a general strike and a mutiny in Petrograd, sparking the February Revolution, severely weakening the monarch’s authority. After abdicating, the revolutionaries exiled his family to Siberia. When the Bolsheviks took power in the October Revolution, they executed the Czar and his family.

Today in Labor History March 15, 1918: The battle of Tampere began. It is the most famous and bloodiest of all the Finnish Civil War battles. In its aftermath, the Whites executed hundreds of unarmed Reds who had already surrendered. They imprisoned 11,000 in the Kalevankangas camp.

1920s

Today in Labor History March 15, 1920: The Workers Council movement began a strike in Turin, Italy, which spread to other northern cities by April. Workers took over and occupied factories, running them under their own leadership and rules, bypassing and ignoring the bosses. The government sent warships and soldiers to quash the uprising. Anarchist Errico Malatesta and Antonio Gramsci played key roles in the occupation.

Today in Labor History March 15, 1921: 23-year-old Armenian, Soghomon Tehlirian, assassinated Talaat Pasha, former Grand Vizir of the Ottoman Empire and chief architect of the Armenian genocide. Tehlirian had previously assassinated Harutian Mgrditichian, who worked for the Ottoman secret police and helped compile the list of Armenian intellectuals who were deported on 24 April 1915 at the beginning of the genocide. After the deportation, they sent over one million women and children on a death march to the Syrian desert. During the march, they starved and raped the Armenians. Overall, they killed one million people, or 90% of the Armenian population. After a two-day trial, a German court acquitted Tehlirian.

2000s

Today in Labor History March 15, 2019: Nearly 1.5 million young people in 123 countries went on strike to protest climate change. The School Strike for Climate movement began after Swedish high school student Greta Thunberg staged a protest in August 2018 outside the Swedish parliament with a sign that read “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“School strike for climate”).

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