Today in labor history: May 13 a busy day !

In 1893 on this date the Western Federation of Miners was formed in Butte, Montana. They organized the hard rock miners of the Rocky Mountain states into a labor union deemed radical by most mine owners and investors. The WFM gained a reputation for strikes and militant action.

In 1909, the Canadian government established its Department of Labour. (The law creating a U.S. Department of Labor was signed by President William H. Taft on March 4, 1913.)

In 1913 some 10,000 dock workers, led by the IWW, went on strike in Philadelphia. Local 8, a branch of Philadelphia longshoremen, had the IWW’s largest contingent of African Americans.

May 13, 1980 was the day when Douglas Fraser, then president of the United Auto Workers, was named to the Chrysler Board of Directors. He thus became the first union representative ever to sit on the board of a major U.S. corporation.

Fraser argued to union members that they would have to make concessions if Chrysler were not to go bankrupt in 1979 and partly because of those concessions  was able to convince Congress to provide $1.2 billion in federal loan guarantees enabling the company to avoid bankruptcy. He negotiated wage cuts of $3 an hour and waived restrictions on layoffs, allowing the company to drop 50,000 jobs -half of its workforce.

Many deeply criticized Fraser’s 1979 negotiations, arguing that they set off a wave of concessionary bargaining among automobile manufacturers which then spread into steel, mining, trucking, meatpacking, airlines and rubber.

Ironically, Fraser was seen as socially progressive, having been a strong backer of the civil rights movement, equality for minorities and women and a supporter of national health insurance.

On May 13, 1998, yellow cab drivers went on strike in New York City. It was a one-day strike to protest proposed new regulations. Thousands of drivers walked out of their cabs and onto picket lines in a labor action that rocked city, state and federal officials. “City officials were stunned by the strike’s success,” wrote the New York Times the day after.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA), based in New York, became the latest affiliate union of the AFL-CIO, and the first group to receive an organizing committee charter from America’s largest labor organization in a half-century. The members of NTWA have done groundbreaking work in unifying taxi workers, increasing drivers’ take-home pay and building a structure to provide the taxi workers access to health care. 



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