The Month of March in Labor History
March 4, 1801: In his inaugural address, President Thomas Jefferson declares: “Take not from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
March 31, 1840: President Martin Van Buren issues an Executive Order providing for a 10-hour work day for all employees on federal public works projects.
March 7, 1860: Several thousand shoemakers in Lynn, Massachusetts begin a strike that soon spreads to 20,000 shoe workers all over New England. The strikers, who include men and women, eventually win higher wages, but not the recognition of their union.
March 3, 1873: Birth of William Green in Coshocton, Ohio. Green was a coal miner who succeeded Samuel Gompers as president of the American Federation of Labor, holding the position from 1924 to 1952.
March 6, 1885: Founding of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, a union of mariners, fishermen and boatmen working on U.S. flag vessels, in San Francisco.
March 6, 1886: The Knights of Labor begin the Great Southwestern Strike, in which 9,000 workers on robber baron Jay Gould’s Southwestern Railroad shut down service in five states. The workers hold out for several months but strikebreakers, company security intimidation and violence, and military intervention all contribute to the collapse of the strike by September.
March 22, 1886: Samuel Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) gives a talk in Hartford, Connecticut, praising the Knights of Labor’s commitment to fair treatment of all workers, regardless of race or gender. Clemens was a lifelong member of the International Typographical Union (now part of the Communications Workers of America).
March 15, 1887: Founding of the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America, which grows to 7,000 members in over 100 local unions in its first year. The union is now known as the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and has over 160,000 active and retired members.
March 1, 1900: The Granite Cutters National Union begins a nationwide strike, which results in numerous benefits, including recognition for the union; wage increases; a minimum wage scale; an eight-hour day; and a grievance procedure.
March 9, 1902: Rail and ship freight workers begin a sympathy strike with striking freight handlers and clerks in Boston who had walked out over their co-workers being fired for refusing to handle freight by a company using scab labor to replace union freight drivers. Within three days, 20,000 freight workers are on strike in the city and the dispute is quickly settled.
March 1, 1906: Birth of Joseph Curren in New York City. A member of the Merchant Marines, Curren helped to form the National Maritime Union in 1937 and served as its president until 1973.
March 3, 1906: The local lumber workers’ union in Humboldt County, California founds the Union Labor Hospital Association, which establishes a hospital and community center for the county’s union workers.
March 1, 1907: The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) begins a strike of sawmills in Portland, Oregon.
March 8, 1908: On the anniversary of an 1857 protest by women garment workers, 15,000 women needle trades workers demonstrate in New York City seeking higher wages, a shorter work day and an end to child labor. Since 1910, May 8 has been celebrated as International Women’s Day.
March 25, 1911: A fire breaks out on the top floors of the Triangle Waist Company’s Asch Building in New York City, killing 146 workers, most of them young immigrant women, in large part because the employer locked the doors leading to exits and stairwells to prevent theft and unauthorized breaks. The tragedy leads to a movement for increased workplace safety.
March 27, 1912: More than 8,000 construction workers represented by the IWW walk off their jobs with the Canadian Northern Railway from work camps spread over 400 miles. Meanwhile, the IWW organizes picket lines across the U.S. and Canada at employment offices to prevent the employer from recruiting scabs.
March 2, 1913: Congress grants postal workers an eight-hour work day.
March 4, 1913: On the last day of his presidency, William Howard Taft signs legislation creating an executive-level Department of Labor. After taking office, President Woodrow Wilson appoints Congressman William B. Wilson – former Secretary-Treasurer of the United Mine Workers – as the first Secretary of the Labor Department.
March 6, 1913: The IWW publishes the Little Red Song Book, which includes the song “There Is Power in a Union,” by Swedish-born labor activist Joe Hill.
March 3, 1915: Congress approves the Seamen’s Act, providing the merchant marine with rights similar to those gained by factory workers, including a 56-hour week and minimum standards of cleanliness and safety. The law was drafted by International Seaman’s Union President Andrew Furuseth and its passage was spearheaded by Senator Robert LaFollette.
March 19, 1917: In Wilson v. New, 243 U.S. 332 (1917), the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Adamson Act, which established an eight-hour work day, with overtime pay, for interstate railway workers.
March 8, 1924: Three explosions at a Utah Fuel Co. mine in Castle Gate, Utah, kill 171 workers.
March 8, 1926: New York members of the Fur and Leather Workers Union, many of them women, strike for better pay and conditions. They persevere despite beatings, winning a 10-percent wage increase and five-day work week.
March 6, 1930: Hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers demonstrate in some 30 cities and towns to protest unemployment at the height of the Great Depression. Close to 100,000 fill Union Square in New York City.
March 30, 1930: Construction begins on the Hawks Nest Tunnel in West Virginia. Because the employer decided to cut costs by failing to provide the mostly African-American workers with safety equipment while working with silica-laced rock, between 500 and 1000 workers die of silicosis.
March 3, 1931: The effective date of the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federally financed or assisted construction projects to pay wage rates equal to those prevailing in local construction trades.
March 7, 1932: Three thousand unemployed auto workers march on Henry Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan office, only to be gassed, sprayed with water, and shot at. Four men die and 60 others are wounded.
March 8, 1932: The effective date of the Norris-LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act, which limits the ability of federal judges to issue injunctions against workers and unions involved in labor disputes.
March 4, 1933: President Franklin D. Roosevelt names Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor. Perkins, the first female cabinet member in U.S. history, runs the Labor Department for 12 years, during which time the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Social Security Act became law.
March 1, 1936: The crew of the passenger ship SS California, led by Joseph Curran and others, begins a sit-down strike for better wages and working conditions. When the ship is due to depart from California, the crew refuses to cast off or leave the ship.
March 1, 1936: After five years of labor by 21,000 workers, 112 of whom were killed on the job, the Hoover Dam is completed and turned over to the government. Citizens are so angry at President Herbert Hoover that the name was later changed to Boulder Dam, after a nearby Nevada town.
March 1-2, 1937: CIO president John L. Lewis and U.S. Steel President Myron Taylor sign a landmark contract in which the bitterly anti-union company officially recognizes the Steelworkers Organizing Committee as sole negotiator for the company’s unionized workers and averts a strike. Included in the contract: overtime pay, the eight-hour-day and the 40-hour week, seniority, a grievance procedure and a big pay hike.
March 7, 1937: The Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) signs its first contract with Carnegie-Illinois Steel, for a $5/day wage and benefits. SWOC went on to become the United Steelworkers.
March 29, 1937: The U.S. Supreme Court, in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, upholds the constitutionality of minimum wage legislation enacted by the State of Washington, overturning a decision in 1923 that held that federal minimum wage legislation for women was an unconstitutional infringement of liberty of contract.
March 10, 1941: Transport Workers Union bus drivers in New York City go on strike over wages, hours, working conditions, and benefits. The strike halted most of Manhattan’s bus service for twelve days before it was settled in the workers’ favor.
March 25, 1947: Heavy deposits of coal dust cause an explosion in the Centralia Coal Company’s Mine No. 5 in Centralia, Illinois, killing 111 of the 142 miners at work at the time. Following the disaster, UMWA President John L. Lewis invokes the union’s right to call memorial days and as a memorial to those killed at Centralia, the miners do not work for six days.
March 16, 1948: Refusing to accept a 9-cent wage increase, the United Packinghouse Workers of America initiates a nationwide strike against several large meatpacking companies. Packinghouse workers shut down 140 plants around the country.
March 14, 1954: The film “Salt of the Earth”–which tells the story of the 1951 strike by members of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers at the Empire Zinc mine in New Mexico–premieres. Of the 13,000 movie theaters in the U.S. at the time of its release, only 13 showed the film, which included blacklisted individuals among its cast and crew.
March 20, 1956: More than 50,000 electrical workers end their 156-day nationwide strike against Westinghouse with the right to renegotiate their contract, wage increases, and expanded pension benefits.
March 1, 1956: The federal minimum wage increases to $1.00 per hour.
March 6, 1957: The Int’l Brotherhood of Papermakers merges with United Paperworkers of America to become United Papermakers & Paperworkers.
March 16, 1960: The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is formed to represent New York City public school teachers.
March 17, 1966: Nearly 100 striking Mexican and Filipino farm workers begin a march from Delano to Sacramento, California. By April 11, when they reached the steps of the state capitol, 10,000 supporters had joined them. A few months later, the two organizations representing the workers – the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the National Farm Workers Association – joined to form a single union, out of which the United Farm Workers was born.
March 6, 1970: The federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act is enacted.
March 6, 1972: Predominantly young workers at a Lordstown, Ohio, GM assembly plant stage a wildcat strike, largely in objection to the grueling work pace: at 101.6 cars per hour, their assembly line was believed to be the fastest in the world.
March 6, 1978: President Jimmy Carter invokes the Taft-Hartley law to halt the 1977-78 national contract strike by the United Mine Workers of America. The order was ignored and Carter did little to enforce it. A settlement was reached in late March.
March 5, 1979: United Shoe Workers of America merge with Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union.
March 8, 1979: César Chávez leads 5,000 striking farmworkers on a march through the streets of Salinas, Calif.
March 19, 1981: Five Rockwell International workers are asphyxiated during a nitrogen purge of the engine compartment while setting up a ground test for the space shuttle Columbia. Two of them died.
March 7, 1988: Hollywood writers represented by the Writers Guild of America strike against 200 television and movie studios over residuals payments and creative rights. The successful strike lasted 150 days, one of the longest in industry history.
March 4, 1989: Machinists strike Eastern Airlines, are soon joined by flight attendants and pilots in the nationwide walkout. Owner Frank Lorenzo refuses to consider the unions’ demands; Eastern ultimately went out of business.
March 2, 1990: Six thousand Greyhound bus drivers go on strike over wages and job security. The company hires 3,000 scabs to permanently replace the striking workers, declares the strike over two months later, and files for bankruptcy in June. In 1993, Greyhound agreed to rehire 550 striking drivers, paying them $22 million in back pay.
March 30, 1990: Harry Bridges dies at the age of 88. Bridges helped form and led the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) for forty years. “Labor cannot stand still. It must not retreat. It must go on, or go under,” Bridges said. “The most important word in the language of the working class is solidarity.”
March 7, 2003: Members of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802, go on strike on Broadway in New York City over the League of American Theaters and Producers’ proposed reduction in minimum orchestra size requirements. Broadway shows go dark when actors and stagehands honor picket lines. The strike was resolved after four days.
March 12, 2004: Rocky Mountain Steel Mills steelworkers in Pueblo, Colorado, approve a settlement, ending a six year-long strike, the longest in the union’s history. The settlement included back pay, returning workers to the positions they held in the mill before the strike, and pension improvements.
March 6, 2009: The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the nation’s unemployment rate soared to 8.1 percent in February, the highest since late 1983, as cost-cutting employers slashed 651,000 jobs amid a deepening recession.
March 6, 2012: Thousands of activists and artists in New York City come together to form “The Longest Unemployment Line in the World,” stretching for three miles from Wall Street to Union Square. They hold pink slips for 14 minutes to represent the country’s 14 million unemployed workers. ??March 31, 2013: Cesar Chavez Day is celebrated as an official state holiday in California, Colorado, and Texas and unofficially throughout the United States. The day honors the life and work of farm workers’ advocate, union activist, and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.