Tag Archives: Labor

Subversive Historian – 08/26/09

Fannie Sellins

Back in the day on August 26th, 1919, labor organizer Fannie Sellins was brutally gunned down in West Pennsylvania. Dubbed ‘the angel of mercy’ for her unionizing efforts, Sellins had successfully organized workers in Missouri and West Virginia before United Mine Workers of America leader Philip Murray, impressed by her dedication, offered her a position with the union. Sellins then moved to Pennsylvania to begin organizing in the western part of the state. Assigned to the Allegheny-Kiski Valley, the area had a dubious reputation for repressing unionizing efforts. Undeterred, Sellins successfully organized workers anyway in the anti-union lands known to labor as “Black Valley.” As part of her efforts, Sellins was present on that fateful night when the workers of the Allegheny Coal and Coke Company were confronted by company guards and deputies. In the ensuing violence, she was shot to death as was a miner named Joseph Starzeleski.

As has been all too historically the case with the criminal injustice system, no one was ever convicted of killing Fannie Sellins. The “angel of mercy” was shown none.


Subversive Historian – 08/25/09

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

Back in the day on August 25th, 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was formed in New York. A. Phillip Randolph, a socialist once dubbed as ‘the most dangerous black man in America’ was designated as its leader. The BSCP was extremely significant as a black union dedicated to organizing on twin fronts against the Pullman Company and racism in the U.S. labor movement. Under Randolph’s guidance and the slogan “Fight or be Slaves,” the brotherhood fought for many years to counteract the paternalism of George Pullman’s company while seeking the recognition by the American Federation of Labor of being an international. The latter came first as the BSCP was finally granted the charter from the AFL in 1935. Two years later, Randolph made history when the union signed a contract with the Pullman Company that increased wages and decreased working hours.

It had been the first time a white owner had ever come to official terms with a black union leader.

Subversive Historian – 08/13/09

Newspaper Guild Strike of 1936

Back in the day on August 13th, 1936, a newspaper guild strike was called against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At the center of the dispute was the firing of two long-time employees by the management of the William Randolph Hearst owned daily. Editorial staff members of the P-I believed that the real reason behind the dismissal of the two had to do with their membership with the American Newspaper Guild union. As a result, they joined in solidarity with the strike effort. Hearst ultimately had to halt distribution of the P-I for a number of issues but did not budge on labor’s demands for three and a half months. In that time, staffers out on strike set up their own paper titled “The Guild Daily,” and sold 20,000 copies of its first issue! Many of Seattle’s labor organizations, in time, came to the defense of the newspaper guilders and Hearst finally relented settling on terms favorable to the workers.

Earlier this year, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased printing once more; only this time not as a result of a strike. Instead, the newspaper became the largest daily to go completely online. Perhaps it’s time for another edition of “The Guild Daily.”

Subversive Historian – 08/03/09

The Wheatland Hop Riot

Back in the day on August 3rd, 1913, the Wheatland Hop Riot took place in Northern California. Nearly two-thousand agricultural hop pickers toiled at Durst Ranch working long hours in the hot sun for low pay. Many of the workers slept a mile from the ranch in the open air without blankets in cold night temperatures while others had tents. All were subjected to unsanitary water supplies in labor conditions that screamed for unionization. The Industrial Workers of the World heeded the call of the hop pickers as leaders such as Richard Ford spoke to them about the need for a strike. The meeting continued until members of the local sheriff’s posse confronted Ford and attempted to arrest him. Workers sought to protect Ford, when shots were fired in the air. A riot ensued that left four people dead – a worker, the district attorney, the deputy sheriff, and a young boy who was a bystander.

Though Ford preached non-violence the state arrested him and Herman Suhr, a wobbly organizer who wasn’t even present for starting the riot. They were convicted of second–degree murder and sentenced to life. The Wheatland Hop Riot, nevertheless, harvested future organizing in the fields of California.

Subversive Historian – 07/27/09

Albert “Ginger” Goodwin

Back in the day on July 27th, 1918, labor leader Albert “Ginger” Goodwin was shot to death in Canada. Originally from Yorkshire, Goodwin immigrated to Canada and worked as a coal miner. When his travels took him to Cumberland on Vancouver Island, the future martyr cut his teeth as an organizer and effective orator against coal companies joining the Socialist Party of Canada and eventually running for office under its banner. After participating in the Cumberland Strike, Goodwin moved on to Trail where he led another strike effort for an eight hour workday in a smelter plant there. It was at this time that the fiercely anti-war labor organizer was conscripted for World War I only to be deemed temporarily unfit. However, after the picket lines assembled, he was re-categorized but fled to the hills of Vancouver Island rather than report to the military.

A single bullet took Goodwin’s life when special constable Dan Campbell led police in a search for draft resisters. The labor movement gave one of its leaders a fitting eulogy, however, when the first general strike in British Colombia’s history took place days later.

Subversive Historian – 07/22/09

The Preparedness Day Parade Bombing

Back in the day on July 22nd, 1916, a suitcase bomb exploded during the Preparedness Day Parade in San Francisco killing ten and wounding forty more. With World War I raging in Europe, the city’s Chamber of Commerce organized the event in support of the United States entering the conflict militarily. With sizable public sentiment against such a move, and with labor strife gripping San Francisco, the parade was criticized as an instrument for self-interested war profiteers. The bomb was detonated about a half-hour into the procession as the investigations that followed were immediately focused on the radical left. Two labor organizers, Thomas Mooney and Warren K. Billings, were arrested and tried in connection with the crime. Despite false testimony and perjury, the two men were found guilty with Mooney sentenced to death. After much protest, an investigative commission was set up and Mooney’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.

With overwhelming evidence of their innocence mounting, the persecuted labor leaders were finally released only after two decades of their lives were spent behind bars.

Subversive Historian – 07/07/09

Homestead Strikers Vs. Pinkertons

Back in the day on July 6th, 1892, steelworkers on strike from Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead Mill in Pennsylvania battled the infamous Pinkertons. Henry Clay Frick, who managed the plant, hired the private mercenaries to protect strike breakers he planned to employ. About three-hundred armed Pinkerton agents boarded barges to sail to the plant down the Monogahela River. Though the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steelworkers only represented a few hundred workers at the Homestead Mill, an overwhelming majority of the plant’s 3,800 employees had voted to strike. To protect their work stoppage, striking workers and citizens confronted the Pinkertons on the riverbanks. For the next several hours, the battle turned bloody as gunfire was exchanged on both sides that left several workers dead. The Pinkertons were forced back and retreated from the scene on trains.

Frick, who was in constant contact with a vacationing Carnegie, turned to the state after his mercenaries were beat back. The Pennsylvania National Guard was called in to protect the employment of strike breakers. It was just another example of state intervention that Capitalism detests in words, but not always in deeds…