Today in Labor History July 15

English Peasant Revolt

Today in Labor and Writing History July 15, 1381: The authorities executed Peasants Revolt leader John Ball by hanging, drawing and quartering. They later stuck his head on a pike and left it on London Bridge. Ball was a radical roving priest who routinely pissed off the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a result, they imprisoned him at least three times and excommunicated him. He helped inspire peasants to rise up in June of 1381, though he was in prison at the time. Kentish rebels soon freed him. The revolt came in the wake of the Black Plague and years of war, which the government paid for by heavily taxing the peasantry. Furthermore, the plague had wiped out half the population. He also inspired Wat Tyler and his rebels.

Ball and his followers were inspired, in part, by the contemporary poem, “Piers Plowman,” (1370-1390) by William Langland. Ball put Piers, and other characters from Langland’s poem, into his own cryptic writings, which some believe were coded messages to his followers. The poem, “Vox Clamantis,” (also 1380-1390) by John Gower, also refers to John Ball.

“Ball was the preacher, the prophet and teacher, inspired by a spirit of hell,
And every fool advanced in his school, to be taught as the devil thought well.”

Ball was also the main character in the anonymous play, “The Life and Death of Jack Straw,” (1593), which is about the Peasants’ Revolt. The socialist, William Morris, wrote a short story called “A Dream of John Ball.” And T. H. White writes about John Ball in “The Once and Future King,” (1958) by .

1910s

Today in Labor History July 15, 1915: 200,000 Welsh mine workers defied the Munitions of War Act and struck for higher pay.

Today in Labor History July 15, 1917: The authorities indicted Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and other radicals under the new Espionage Act for their anti-war activities. Goldman and Berkman got two-year prison sentences and $10,000 fines. They were later deported to the Soviet Union. 

Today in Labor History July 15, 1917: 50,000 lumberjacks struck for a 8-hour day.

1920s

Today in Labor History July 15, 1927: The July Revolt of 1927 began in Vienna. It ended with police firing into the crowd and killing 89 protesters. Additionally, five police died. Over 600 protestors and roughly 600 policemen were injured. The clash was the culmination of a conflict between the Social Democratic Party of Austria and a right-wing alliance of wealthy industrialists and the Catholic Church.

1950s

Today in Labor History July 15, 1955: Eighteen Nobel laureates signed the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, later co-signed by thirty-four other Nobel laureates. Werner Heisenberg (shown pictured), or the uncertainty principle, was 1 of the signers.

Today in Labor History July 15, 1959: United Steel workers began the longest steel strike in the U.S., ending January 4, 1960.

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