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This Week in People’s History, May 23 . . .

Historic auto workers contract. 1st Amendment protects mail. U.S. army crosses ocean for the first time. Ford Company thugs assault union organizers. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan released. Major union victory in Rochester. Court throws out FBI frame-up

Mural by Diego Rivera showing workers in an automobile factory
Diego Rivera, Detroit Institute of Arts

May 23, 1950.  The United Auto Workers and General Motors agree to a historic 5-year contract that is known as the Treaty of Detroit.  In the unprecedented agreement, the union gave up the right to bargain over some issues in exchange for extensive health, unemployment, and pension benefits; expanded vacation time; and cost-of-living adjustments to wages.

May 24, 1965.  By an 8-0 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court finally stands up for the First Amendment, when it strikes down a federal law requiring the Postmaster to detain -- and deliver only upon the addressee's written request -- unsealed foreign mailings of "communist political propaganda."

May 25, 1898 (125 years ago).  The first contingents of the United State's Army's Philippines Expeditionary Force depart San Francisco by ship. In July 1898 more than eleven thousand U.S. soldiers become the first U.S. ground troops ever to make war outside of the western hemisphere. The U.S. war in the Philippines continued for more than 14 years and resulted in battlefield deaths of some 20 thousand soldiers, three-quarters of whom were Filipino, and between two hundred thousand and a million Filipino civilians killed by starvation and disease.

May 26, 1937.  The bitter effort to win a first contract at Ford Motor Company, during which company thugs regularly attack pro-union workers, explodes on a pedestrian overpass leading to the Ford factory in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford's thugs assault organizers handing out union leaflets, breaking one organizer's back and driving the others away. Detroit News photographer James Kilpatrick goes to extraordinary lengths to prevent the thugs from destroying his film. Publication of the photos is a public-relations nightmare for Ford. Even so, it was another four years before Ford was compelled to sign a contract with the UAW.

May 27, 1963 (60 years ago).  The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Dylan's second studio album, is released by Columbia Records. It opens with "Blowin' in the Wind," and features "Girl from the North Country," "Masters of War," "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" all of which became anthems of the 1960s.

May 28, 1946.  New York State's third largest city is paralyzed by a massive and successful general strike, in what is known as the Battle of Rochester. The strike, which was not a general strike at first, began when the city suddenly fired 489 municipal workers who had just formed a union and were preparing to ask for a contract. Over the following two weeks, virtually all the unions in the city, with at least 60 thousand members, demanded the workers' rehiring. Thousands picketed essential municipal facilities, including water works, bus depots, and sanitation garages, shutting them down. More than 250 pickets were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. When the city refused to reverse the firings, many unionized workers  -- including teamsters, printers, electrical workers, theater projectionists, the staffs of the city's two daily newspapers, and 13,500 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers   -- struck simultaneously and brought the city to a standstill. City government almost immediately gave in, rehiring the workers and agreeing to recognize their union.

May 29, 1997.  The murder conviction of Black Panther Party leader Geronimo Pratt is overturned by a federal court. Pratt had been falsely imprisoned for 27 years after he was framed by the FBI. The court ruled that prosecutors should have disclosed that their main witness was a 4-time felon and paid FBI informer.  According to a later-disclosed FBI document, Pratt had been targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO operation, which aimed to "neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary." After the verdict was overturned, the prosecution determined that a new trial was precluded by lack of evidence. Later, Pratt sued the FBI and LAPD for false imprisonment and received a $4.5 million settlement.…

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