Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Labor History Timeline--WWII and the Post-War Wave of Strikes and Federal Suppression



1941    No Strike Pledges by AFL and CIO: The major unions sold out their members in the name of fighting fascism. (Sources:UHWO)

1943    Smith-Connally Act: The law restricted labor bargaining and organizing, required cooling off periods, imposed criminal penalties for encouraging strikes and allowed the president to seize control of struck plants. (Sources: UHWO)

1944    Port Chicago Mutiny, San Francisco Bay Area: Munitions exploded while mostly black sailors were loading ships, killing 320 and injuring 390. Unsafe working conditions continued after the disaster, prompting hundreds of the sailors to stop working and refuse to load anymore munitions. 50 of them were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to long prison terms, though the majority were released after a year and a half. (Sources:Wikipedia)

1945-1946       400,000 Miners & 750,000 Steelers Went on Strike—Part of the largest strike wave in U.S. history. At one point there were 1.6 million workers simultaneously on strike. By the end of the year, more than 4.5 million workers had deliberately stopped working. During World War II, most major unions signed no-strike pledges. As a result, there were numerous grievances and conflicts that had been building up during the war that came to a head in 1945-1946. The number of union members in the U.S. also doubled from 7 million in 1940, to 14.5 million by the war’s end. During the strike wave, over 400,000 coal miners struck, along with 750,000 steelworkers, 70,000 teamsters, 300,000 meatpackers, 175,000 electrical workers and nearly 50,000 petroleum workers and machinists. (Sources: Daily KosNew York TimesMarxists.orgCounter Punch)

1945    Navy Seizes Oil Refineries: In October, Truman used the navy to seize half of the nation’s refining capacity to break a post-war strike in 20 states. (Sources: Lutins.orgJeremy Brecker)

1946    Government Seizes Railways: In May, rail workers decided to join the miners and steelers. Such a strike threatened to bring the economy to a standstill as it would have significantly reduced the transport of goods. President Truman seized the railroads to break the strike, threatening to use the army to run the lines until the workers settled. (Sources: UHWOBits of News)

1946    Rochester General strike: The Rochester City Council fired nearly 500 city workers on May 15, 1946 for forming a union and then started to mass arrest picketers and organizers on May 21-23, provoking a General Strike later that month. (sources:Rochester LaborDaily Kos)

1946    Oakland General Strike: The last General Strike in the U.S. occurred in 1946 in Oakland, California. The strike came in response to the anti-labor policies of Hastings and Kahn’s department stores in downtown Oakland. Hundreds of store clerks (mostly women) went on strike in late October. The store enlisted the police to clear away strikers and protect strike-breaking scabs. On December 3, 100,000 workers throughout Oakland joined the strike. The AFL eventually voted to walkout in solidarity with the clerks. However, Harry Bridges, who was then head of the California CIO, refused to become involved, while the AFL quickly brokered a sellout deal on December 5, when the city manager agreed not to use police to bring in scabs deal—a deal that angered of many store clerks and teamsters who continued to picket (Modern SchoolCounterpunchLibcom).

1946    More General Strikes: Less well-known General Strikes also occurred in 1946 in Stamford, CT, and Lancaster, PA. (Sources:Jeremy Brecker)

1947    Taft-Hartley ActThis anti-labor law, which was passed in 1947, banned the General Strike, solidarity or sympathy strikes, and secondary boycotts. It prohibited closed union shops and opened the door to “right-to-work” legislation. President Truman, whose veto was overridden, called it an “intrusion on free speech.” The law also permits the president to obtain a strike-breaking injunction by claiming that national security is threatened by the strike. Many believe Taft-Hartley was a direct response by capital to the upheavals of the recent Oakland General Strike and the coal and steel strikes. (Wikipedia,Modern School)

1950    Army Seizes Railroads: Truman once again seized the railroads—this time to block a General Strike from occurring. The army occupied the railroads for two years before handing them back to their owners. (Sources: AFGE)

1952    Army Seizes Steel Mills: Truman also used the army to avert a major strike in the steel mills. The Supreme Court later ruled the move unconstitutional.  (Sources: AFGE)

1955    AFL and CIO merge: Two large pro-business unions merge into one mega-pro-business union hell bent on avoiding strikes and keeping production flowing.

1959    Longest Steel Strike in U.S. History: 90% of U.S. steel production was halted for 116 days. Eisenhower used Taft-Hartley to force the steelworkers back to work. (Sources:UHWOWikipedia)

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