July 8 - The Fight for a Federal Prevailing Wage

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The Rick Smith Show Logo  fiber_manual_record  Jul 9th, 2021


On this day in labor history, the year was 1939.

That was the day AFL president, William Green called all affiliates to meet in Chicago.

Green sought to mobilize union leaders in a fight to restore prevailing wages on federal relief projects.

Building tradesmen on WPA construction sites had started walking off the job in spontaneous strikes across the country three days earlier.

The strike spread rapidly to 36 states, quickly turning into a nationwide walkout of over 150,000.

Workers were outraged by provisions in the latest federal relief bill, titled the Woodrum Act.

New terms established the 130-hour rule, essentially slashing wages by more than half.

It also called for a 30-day dismissal of all workers who had been on WPA rolls for 18 months.

The AFL Building Trades Department stated the act would “destroy national wage standards established through 50 years of collective bargaining.”

IBEW leader Daniel Tracy added that forcing a lower wage on federal relief workers would only aid building contractors in private industry to do the same.

From St. Louis to Rochester, from Minneapolis to Akron, picket lines were solid.

Organizers worked to build solidarity among unskilled WPA workers affected by the new starvation bill.

Tens of thousands of strikers were fired in WPA-ordered dismissals.

President Roosevelt declared there could be no strikes against the federal government.

Attorney General Frank Murphy, former Michigan governor during the Flint sit-down strike, declared that striking against the government would build a fascist psychology.

WPA administrators also threatened organizers with federal prosecution, fines and jail time.

But New York’s Building and Construction Trades Council leader, Thomas Murray authorized a strike of 32,000.

He avowed, “This will be a strike to the finish.”

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