Sunday, February 14, 2016
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Below are a number of labor heros, click a name to jump to the short biography.
Albert Parsons Lucy Parsons John L. Lewis Mother Jones
Cesar-Chavez Jane Addams Samuel Gompers Rudy Lozano
Joe Hill Eugene Debs A. Phillip Randolph Addie Wyatt

AlParsonsAlbert Parsons

Albert Parsons (1848–1887) was a pioneer American socialist and later anarchist newspaper editor, orator, and labor activist. Parsons is best remembered as one of four Chicago radical leaders convicted of conspiracy and hanged following a bomb attack on police remembered as the 1886 Haymarket Riot.

In the early months of 1886, the luck of the workers was rising as massive strikes were beginning to take place, crippling many industries into making concessions. Parsons called for a move to "Eight hours' work for ten hours' pay." Workers in some industries were even beginning to get this. As May approached, so did the day designated as the official day to strike for the eight-hour work day.  On May 1, 1886, Parsons, with his wife Lucy and two children, led 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue, in what is regarded as the first-ever May Day Parade, in support of the eight-hour work day. Over the next few days 340,000 laborers joined the strike.

Parsons addressed a rally at Haymarket Square on May 4. This rally was set up in protest of what happened a few days before. On May 1, 1886, the first May Day, a massive strike in support of the eight-hour work day occurred in Chicago. Two days later police fired on workers on strike at the huge McCormick Reaper Works, killing six. August Spies and others organized the rally at the Haymarket in protest of the police violence.

Parsons originally declined to speak at the Haymarket fearing it would cause violence by holding the rally outdoors, but would change his mind during the rally and eventually showed up while Spies was speaking. The mayor of Chicago was even there and noticed that it was a peaceful gathering, but he left when it started to rain. The event ended around 10 p.m. and at the end of the event, after Parsons had already left and as the audience was already drifting away, a large group of policemen came and forcefully told the crowd to disperse. At that point a bomb thrown into the square exploded, killing one policeman and wounding others. Gunfire erupted, resulting in 7 deaths and many others wounded.  Nobody knows who threw the bomb.

Parsons was drinking a schooner of beer at Zeph's Hall when he saw a flash and heard the explosion followed by gunfire.  Authorities apprehended seven men in the days after the events in the Haymarket. These men were ones that had connections to the anarchist movement and many people thought them to be promoters of radical ideas, meaning that they could have been involved in a conspiracy. Parsons avoided arrest and moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, where he remained until June 21; afterward, he turned himself in to stand in solidarity with his comrades.

William Perkins Black, a corporate lawyer, led the defense, despite inevitably becoming ostracized from his peers and losing business for this choice. Witnesses testified that none of the eight threw the bomb. However, all were found guilty, and only Oscar Neebe was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the rest of them were sentenced to death. Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab asked for clemency and their sentences were commuted to life in prison on November 10, 1887 by Governor Richard James Oglesby, who would lose popularity for this decision. These three men received pardons from Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, securing their freedom from incarceration on June 26, 1893.  Parsons himself could have had his sentence commuted into life in prison rather than death, but he refused to write the letter asking the governor to do so, for this would be an admission of guilt.

Parsons' final words on the gallows, recorded for posterity by Dyer D. Lum in The Alarm, were: "Will I be allowed to speak, oh men of America? Let me speak, Sheriff Matson! Let the voice of the people be heard! O—" But the signal was given and Parsons' words were cut short by the springing of the trap-door.

LucyParsonsLucy Parsons

Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons (died March 7, 1942) was a radical American labor organizer and anarchist communist. She is remembered as a powerful orator.  In the 1920s Chicago's police department described the Parsons as "more dangerous than a thousand rioters."

In 1905 she participated in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, and began editing the Liberator, an anarchist newspaper that supported the IWW in Chicago. Lucy's focus shifted somewhat to class struggles around poverty and unemployment, and she organized the Chicago Hunger Demonstrations in January 1915, which pushed the American Federation of Labor, the Socialist Party, and Jane Addams' Hull House to participate in a huge demonstration on February 12. Parsons was also quoted as saying, "My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production." (Wobblies! 14) Parsons anticipated the sit-down strikes in the US and, later, workers' factory takeovers in Argentina.

In 1925 she began working with the National Committee of the International Labor Defense in 1927, a communist-led organization that defended labor activists and unjustly-accused African Americans such as the Scottsboro Nine and Angelo Herndon. While it is commonly accepted by nearly all biographical accounts (including those of the Lucy Parsons Center, the IWW, and Joe Knowles) that Parsons joined the Communist Party in 1939, there is some dispute, notably in Gale Ahrens' essay "Lucy Parsons: Mystery Revolutionist, More Dangerous Than A Thousand Rioters", which can be found in the anthology Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality, Solidarity. Ahrens also points out, in "Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality and Solidarity: Writings and Speeches, 1878 - 1937", that the obituary which the Communist Party had published on her death made no claim that she had been a member.

Parsons continued to give fiery speeches in Chicago's Bughouse Square into her 80s, where she inspired Studs Terkel.

LewisJohn L. Lewis

John Llewellyn Lewis (1880 – 1969) was an American leader of organized labor who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960. He was a major player in the history of coal mining. He was the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which established the United Steel Workers of America and helped organize millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s.

A leading liberal, he played a major role in helping Franklin D. Roosevelt win a landslide in 1936, but as an isolationist broke with Roosevelt in 1940 on foreign policy. Lewis was a brutally effective and aggressive fighter and strike leader who gained high wages for his membership while steamrolling over his opponents, including the United States government. Lewis was one of the most controversial and innovative leaders in the history of labor, gaining credit for building the industrial unions of the CIO into a political and economic powerhouse to rival the AFL, yet was widely hated as he called nationwide coal strikes damaging the American economy in the middle of World War II.  Coal miners for 40 years hailed him as the benevolent dictator who brought high wages, pensions and medical benefits, and damn the critics.

MotherJonesMother Jones

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (May 1, 1830 – November 30, 1930), born in Cork, Ireland, was a prominent American labor and community organizer, who helped co-ordinate major strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World.

She worked as a teacher and dressmaker but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever and her workshop was destroyed in a fire in 1871 she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union.

She was a very effective speaker, punctuating her speeches with stories, audience participation, humour and dramatic stunts. From 1897she was known as Mother Jones and in 1902 she was called "the most dangerous woman in America" for her success in organizing mine workers and their families against the mine owners. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labour laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Childrens March from Philadelphia to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

At her request, after her death in 1930 at 100 years of age, Mother Jones was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois. On October 11,1936, a momument to her was dedicated at her gravesite. Some 50,000 people attended the dedication. Watch the only video of Mother Jones, filmed shortlly before her death.

The magazine Mother Jones , established in 1970, is named after her.

chavezCesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993) was a Mexican American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).[1]

He became the best known Latino civil rights activist and as, founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) was strongly promoted by the labor movement eager to enroll Hispanic members . His public-relations approach to unionism and aggressive but nonviolent tactics made the farm workers' struggle a moral cause with nationwide support.

Chavez was charismatic; a self-taught rhetorical genius he created commitment by inspiring well educated Latino idealists with undiscovered organizing potential and encouraged them to offer a liberating, self-abnegating devotion to the farmworkers' movement. Claiming as his models Emiliano Zapata, Gandhi, Nehru and Martin Luther King, he called on his people to, "Make a solemn promise: to enjoy our rightful part of the riches of this land, to throw off the yoke of being considered as agricultural implements or slaves. We are free men and we demand justice."

After his death he became a major historical icon for the Latino community, and for liberals generally, symbolizing militant support for workers and for Hispanic power based on grass roots organizing and his slogan "Sí, se puede" (Spanish for "Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "Yes, it can be done").

Supporters say his work led to numerous improvements for union laborers. His birthday has become César Chávez Day, a state holiday in eight US states. Many parks, cultural centers, libraries, schools, and streets have been named in his honor in cities across the United States.

AddamsJane Addams

Jane Addams (1860 – 1935) was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In a long, complex career, she was a pioneer settlement worker and founder of Hull House in Chicago, public philosopher (the first American woman in that role), sociologist, author, and leader in woman suffrage and world peace. She was the most prominent woman of the Progressive Era and helped turn the nation to issues of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, public health and world peace. She emphasized that women have a special responsibility to clean up their communities and make them better places to live, arguing they needed the vote to be effective. Addams became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities. She is increasingly being recognized as a member of the American pragmatist school of philosophy.

gompersSamuel Gompers

Samuel Gompers (January 27, 1850 – December 13, 1924) was an English-born American labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and served as that organization's president from 1886 to 1894 and from 1895 until his death in 1924. He promoted harmony among the different craft unions that comprised the AFL, trying to minimize jurisdictional battles. He promoted "thorough" organization and collective bargaining to secure shorter hours and higher wages, the first essential steps, he believed, to emancipating labor. He also encouraged the AFL to take political action to "elect their friends" and "defeat their enemies." During World War I, Gompers and the AFL worked with the government to avoid strikes and boost morale, while raising wage rates and expanding membership.

RudyLozanoRudy Lozano

Rudy Lozano (1951–1983) was an activist and community organizer in Chicago, Illinois. Born in Harlingen, Texas, his parents moved the family early on to city's predominantly Mexican-American south-west side Pilsen neighborhood. In his 20s, Lozano became an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

In 1982, Lozano entered politics, running for the 22nd Ward in an attempt to be the first Mexican-American elected to the Chicago City Council. Over the year after his defeat, he played one of the instrumental roles in bringing Latino voters across the city to support candidate Harold Washington, who became Chicago's first African-American mayor. He had continued his work in the ILGWU, becoming the chief Midwest field organizer through his work with tortilla factory employees and other low-paid immigrant workers.

On June 8, 1983, Lozano was shot to death in his home. Those responsible have not been discovered.

Today, the Pilsen branch of the Chicago Public Library is named in Lozano's honor, and his wife, sister, and sons continue his activist legacy. Also, in his honor, there is a school called Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy. RLLA is associated with the Instituto Del Progreso Latino in Chicago.

JoeHillJoe Hill

Joe Hill (1879 – 1915) was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the Wobblies).  Hill rose in the IWW organization and traveled widely, organizing workers under the IWW banner, writing political songs and satirical poems, and making speeches. His songs frequently appropriated familiar melodies from songs of his time. He coined the phrase "pie in the sky", which appeared in his song "The Preacher and the Slave" (a parody of the hymn "In the Sweet Bye and Bye"). Other notable songs written by Hill include "The Tramp", "There is Power in the Union", "Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones: Union Scab".  He was executed for murder after a controversial trial. After his death, he was memorialized by several folk songs.

DebsEugene Debs

Eugene Victor Debs (1855 – 1926) was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the International Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and several times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States. Through his presidential candidacies, as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

In the early part of his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party of the United States. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), the nation's first industrial union. When the ARU struck the Pullman Palace Car Company over pay cuts, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was later imprisoned for failing to obey an injunction against the strike.

Debs educated himself about socialism in prison and emerged to launch his career as the nation's most prominent socialist in the first decades of the 20th century. He ran as the Socialist Party's candidate for the presidency in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920, the last time from his prison cell. Noted for his oratory, it was a speech denouncing American participation in World War I that led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926 not long after being admitted to a Sanatorium.

RandolphA. Phillip Randolph

Asa Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was a prominent twentieth-century African-American civil rights leader and the founder of both the March on Washington Movement and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a landmark for labor and particularly for African-American labor organizing. In 1925 Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and was elected president. This was the first serious effort to form a labor institution for employees of the Pullman Company, which was a major employer of African Americans. The railroads had expanded dramatically in the early 20th century, and the jobs offered relatively good employment at a time of widespread racial discrimination. In these early years, however, the company took advantage of the employees.

Randolph emerged as one of the most visible spokesmen for African-American civil rights. In 1941, he, Bayard Rustin, and A. J. Muste proposed a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in war industries and to propose the desegregation of the American Armed forces. The march was cancelled after President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, or the Fair Employment Act. Some militants felt betrayed because Roosevelt's order applied only to banning discrimination within war industries and not the armed forces.

But, the Fair Employment Act is generally perceived as a success for African-American labor rights. In 1942, an estimated 18,000 blacks gathered at Madison Square Garden to hear Randolph kick off a campaign against discrimination in the military, in war industries, in government agencies, and in labor unions. Following the act, during the Philadelphia Transit Strike of 1944, the government backed African-American workers' striking to gain positions formerly limited to white employees.

AddieWyattAddie Wyatt

The first female board member of the United Packinghouse Food and Alliance Workers Union, Addie L. Wyatt was elected vice president of Local 56 in 1953. During her 30-year career as a labor leader Wyatt fought for equality as a campaigner for women's rights in the workplace and as an active protester alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1960s. She served as a member of President John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women and in 1976 became the first black woman labor leader of an international union when she was elected international vice president of the newly merged United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. A former Time magazine woman of the year (1975), Wyatt was inducted to the Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2005.

Wyatt worked as a meat packer between 1941 and 1954, combining this with looking after the children, organizing the Wyatt Choral Ensemble (founded 1944) with her husband, and her increasing involvement with the labor union, United Packinghouse and Food and Alliance Workers Union. By the early 1950s she was a well-known activist and in 1953 was elected vice president of her branch, Local 56, becoming the first black woman to hold senior office in an American labor union. In 1955 Wyatt was ordained into the Church of God where her husband was already a minister.

The couple also became involved with the ministry and civil rights campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Wyatt became labor adviser to King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She was a leading civil rights campaigner in Chicago during the 1960s, serving on the Action Committee of the Chicago Freedom Movement and organizing protests. The Wyatts also worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson in helping to found Operation Breadbasket, which distributed food to underprivileged people in 12 American cities, in 1962. Wyatt later became involved in its successor, P.U.S.H. (People United to Serve Humanity).

The power and influence of the United Packinghouse Workers' union declined in the 1960s as the Chicago meatpacking industry collapsed. Known as an inspirational speaker, Wyatt was able to galvanize union members and activists in difficult times and by the 1970s she was a major figure in the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the amalgamated union that emerged from the period of crisis. In 1974 she helped found the Coalition of Labor Union Women and in 1976 she became international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, making her the first African-American woman to lead an international union. She served in this position until 1984 when she retired to become a full-time pastor in the church she and her husband helped found, the Mount Vernon Church of God, Chicago.

Wyatt's major achievement as a union activist was to protect and enhance the rights of women in the workplace. She was the first chair of the National Women's Committee of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), which honored her by naming an award after her, the Addie L. Wyatt Woman of the Year Award. Wyatt was appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt as a committee member on the Labor Legislation Committee of the Commission on the Status of Women, which reported in 1963. She was appointed by President Carter to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. Wyatt was named one of Time's Women of the Year in 1975 and by the Ladies' Home Journal in 1977. Ebony judged her one of the 100 most influential black Americans between 1980 and 1984. On August 26, 2005, her footprints were added to the Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, in acknowledgment of her work as an activist, campaigner, and leader.

Biography from

"And I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in her own hands and she will stand as a united force and show the world what the workers can do." --- Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, 1830-1930

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