The French Robin Hood
Today in Labor History May 26, 1755: The French authorities caught and executed Louis Mandrin, the French Robin Hood. He had led an army of 300 smugglers in a rebellion against the Fermiers, or tax collectors. This made him incredibly popular with the masses because the Fermiers would tax them far more than the king required and pocket the extra. Furthermore, he would buy products in Switzerland and sell them in France without paying any taxes, making them much less expensive. However, when he was caught, the authorities publicly tortured him and left his body on display to teach the masses a lesson. The people left sympathetic notes beside his body and a legend was born.
1820s: The First Factory Strike
Today in Labor History May 26, 1824: Women and girls led the first recorded factory strike in US history. 102 women and girls walked off the job at Slater Mill, in Pawtucket, and picketed their factory. Two days prior, the owners had increased working hours by an hour per day with no additional pay. Additionally, they slashed the pay of power-loom weavers by 25%. Those affected were all women and girls aged 15 to 30. According to the bosses, the girls had already been earning “extravagant wages.”
The owners were caught off guard. They were not expecting a protest. Indeed, no U.S. factories had ever experienced a strike. Perhaps even more shocking, other workers and community members joined them in solidarity. They blockaded the mills and hurled rocks at the mansions of the owners. On the final day of the week-long strike, workers set one of the mills on fire. The next day, the owners agreed to negotiate and agreed on a compromise.
1850s: The First Longshoremen Strike
May 26, 1851: Stevedores and longshoreman struck in San Francisco. This was the first documented longshore strike in California. They were demanding six dollars per day, which was a lot in those days. However, the gold rush caused massive inflation and six dollars was not much in light of that. They also were fighting for a nine-hour work day and one dollar per hour overtime. In the wake of this successful strike, organizers formed the Riggers’ and Stevedores’ Association.
Dred Scott Was Freed
Today in Labor History May 26, 1857: Dred Scott was freed from slavery. Scott is most well-known because of the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision. He had sued for his family’s freedom, arguing that they had lived four years in the north, where slavery was illegal. The Court ruled 7-2 that people of African descent weren’t U.S. citizens and thus had no standing before the court. Scott’s lawsuit was funded by the children of Peter Blow, who had turned against slavery in the years since their father had sold the Scotts to John Emerson. After the ruling, Emerson’s wife and her new husband, who was an abolitionist, deeded the Scotts back to the Blow children. They manumitted the Scotts on May 26, 1857. However, Dred Scott died from tuberculosis fourteen months later.
May 26, 1871: The “Bloody Week” of repression and violence against the Paris Commune continued, with battles at the Bastille and Villette. Communards were defeated on this date at Belleville and Père Lachaise. The Versailles forces assassinated injured communards in their ambulances, inspiring an angry crowd to execute 50 hostages in revenge.
Today in Labor History May 26, 1894: The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) struck for an eight-hour day in Cripple Creek, Colorado.
May 26, 1895: American photojournalist Dorothea Lange was born. She is best-known for her empathetic photographs of people during the Great Depression. However, she is also one of the first to document the suffering of Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.
Today in Labor History May 26, 1913: Actors’ Equity Association was founded by 112 actors at a meeting in New York City’s Pabst Grand Circle Hotel. Producer George M. Cohan said: “I will drive an elevator for a living before I will do business with any actors’ union.” Later a sign appeared in Times Square reading: “Elevator operator wanted. George M. Cohan need not apply.”
May 26, 1920: Members of the IWW Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union went on strike in Philadelphia for higher wages to counteract the increased cost of living.
Today in Labor History May 26, 1937: Henry Ford unleashed his company goons on United Auto Workers organizers at the “Battle of the Overpass” near the River Rouge plant. General Motors and Chrysler signed collective bargaining agreements with the UAW in 1937, but Ford held out until 1942. Ford Motor Co. security guards attacked union organizers and supporters attempting to distribute literature outside the plant. The guards tried to destroy any photos showing the attack. However, a few survived and they inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography.
May 26, 1937: The “Little Steel” strike began in Ohio. Over 600 workers picketed at Republic’s mill in Cleveland, while virtually every one of its 6,500 workers abandoned the mill. The National Guard was used to crush the strike, first in Youngstown, and then in Canton, Massillon, Warren and Cleveland. They completely busted the strike by mid-July. Overall, 100,000 steel workers and miners working for the steel companies struck in seven states. Four days later, police killed 10 strikers at Republic Steel in Chicago, in the Memorial Day Massacre.
Today in Labor History May 26, 1944: The French resistance called General Strike against the Nazis in Marseille, while a U.S. bombing raid on Marseille killed 6,000 in the workers’ districts.
May 26, 1968: The May Days uprisings were continuing in France. A General Strike had paralyzed the government which was on the verge of collapse.
Today in Writing History May 26, 1977: Author and cartoonist Raina Telgemeier was born in San Francisco. She is most well-known for her books Smile (2010), Drama (2012), Ghosts (2016) and Guts (2019).
Today in Labor History May 26, 1998: Australians celebrated their first National Sorry Day commemorating the mistreatment of the country’s indigenous population.