On August 26, 1919, Fannie Moonie Sellins, a union organizer in coal fields and steel mills, was murdered for protecting Josef Starzeleski, an immigrant worker on a picket line. She was shot three times in the back before her murderers caved her head in with a club. It was brutal and grotesque. And though there were many witnesses, no one was ever brought to justice.
The Battle of Homestead Foundation and the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council held a full day of programming, spanning the work, death, and legacy of Fannie Sellins. It may be a coincidence that Fannie Sellins died one year to the day before the 19th amendment was ratified, recognizing women’s right to vote. But there is a poignancy to remembering a courageous woman and mother of the U.S. Labor movement on Women’s Equality Day.
Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder spoke about the need to remember Fannie’s life and her fight, even more than the brutality of her death. So much of her fight remains unfinished today. The Labor movement is still trying to protect and advance the rights of workers to organize for better wages and working conditions.
UMWA’s former district 2 Vice President Ed Yankovich gave a passionate message at her gravesite, linking the struggles of 100 years ago to the very same issues we face today. Fannie Sellins didn’t solely fight for workers’ rights to their union, she fought for their human dignity. Let us not forget who the coal miners and mill workers were in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were immigrants.
Today, we must also remember that the fight for human dignity continues. The Labor movement of a hundred years ago brought people together across nationalities. Our solidarity as workers bridged what would have divided us otherwise. We must return to that today. Our solidarity with fellow workers, regardless of where they come from or what last name they have, must be the central tenet of our movement today.
You can learn more about Fannie here.