18 October 1648

Boston Shoemakers form first American trade labor organization.

Today in 18 October 1648, Boston shoemakers and “coopers” barrel-makers formed what are considered the first American trade unions.

The colonies had till then failed to import the English tradition of guilds, whereby craftsmen would band together to establish prices, quality standards, apprentice programs and charitable programs. The guilds in England also supported members who had retired or were beset by health or other challenges.

But these two 1648 quasi-guilds were limited to ensuring quality. The Massachusetts General Court prohibited “The Company of Shoomakers” from offering educational or charitable programs, or from fixing prices or settling disputes.

More than a century later, the independence shown by the Boston shoemakers surfaced, as one of them has been credited with starting the Boston Tea Party.

The Philadelphia carpenter’s union, formed some years after 1648, was more aggressive on behalf of its workers, and its printers and shoemakers were also aggressive at an early stage in the city’s history. According to the History of Trade Unionism in the United States by Perlman and Selig: “The earliest recorded genuine labor strike in America, in 1786, was over wages paid to Philadelphia printers, who ‘turned out’ to demand a minimum wage of $6 per week.” The second strike on record, in 1791, was also in Philadelphia, by house carpenters who struck for a ten-hour day.

In 1796 local shoemakers in Philadelphia organized the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers shoemakers working with Cordovan leather. Three years later the organization staged a 10-week, successful strike for higher wages, the first strike in the newcounry sanctioned by a union.

24 October 1648

The Peace of Westphalia is signed, marking the end of the Thirty Years’ War.

Westphalia

The Westphalia area of north-western Germany gave its name to the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War, one of the most destructive conflicts in the history of Europe.

The war or series of connected wars began in 1618, when the Austrian Habsburgs tried to impose Roman Catholicism on their Protestant subjects in Bohemia. It pitted Protestant against Catholic, the Holy Roman Empire against France, the German princes and princelings against the emperor and each other, and France against the Habsburgs of Spain. The Swedes, the Danes, the Poles, the Russians, the Dutch and the Swiss were all dragged in or dived in. Commercial interests and rivalries played a part, as did religion and power politics.

Among famous commanders involved were Marshal Turenne and the Prince de Condé for France, Wallenstein for the Empire and Tilly for the Catholic League, and there was an able Bavarian general curiously named Franz von Mercy. Others to play a part ranged from the Winter King of Bohemia to the emperors Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III, Bethlen Gabor of Transylvania, Christian IV of Denmark, Gustavus II Adolphus and Queen Christina of Sweden, the Great Elector of Brandenburg, Philip IV of Spain and his brother the Cardinal-Infante, Louis XIII of France, Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin and several popes. Gustavus Adolphus was shot in the head and killed at the battle of Lutzen in 1632. The increasingly crazed Wallenstein, who grew so sensitive to noise that he had all the dogs, cats and cockerels killed in every town he came to, was murdered by an English captain in 1634. Still the fighting went on.