Today in Labor History July 21

The Great Upheaval

Today in Labor History July 21, 1877: 30,000 Chicago workers rallied on Market Street during the Great Upheaval wave of strikes occurring throughout the country. Future anarchist and Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons spoke to the crowd. He advocated the use of the ballot to obtain “state control of the means of production.” He urged workers to join the communist Workingmen’s Party. Armed men later abducted him and took him to the police. 

The strike wave started in Martinsburg, WV, on July 16, and quickly spread along the railroad lines throughout the country. In Chicago, striking workers from numerous industries took to the streets daily. They shut down the railroads, mills, foundries and many other businesses. They carried banners that said “Life by work, or death by fight”. One speaker said, “We must rise up in our might, and fight for our rights. Better a thousand of us be shot down in the streets than ten thousand die of starvation.”

On July 26, the protesters threw rocks and fired pistols at the cops. The police fired back until they ran out of ammo. At that point, the crowd forced them to flee. However, they ran into a detachment of reinforcements and federal troops, sent in by President Hayes. This led to the Battle of the Viaduct, resulting in 15-30 dead strikers and dozens wounded.

The Great Upheaval in Pittsburgh

Burning of Pennsylvania Railroad and Union Depot, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 21–22 July 1877, from Harper’s Weekly. By M.B. Leiser, engraver (August 11, 1877). Pub Dom

Today in Labor History July 21, 1887: 20 striking railroad workers were killed by state troopers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the Great Upheaval. The second book of my “Great Upheaval” trilogy, “Hot Summer in the Smoky City,” takes place in Pittsburgh during the Great Upheaval.


Today in Writing History July 21, 1899: Ernest Hemingway was born. Hemingway was a journalist, novelist and short story writer. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954. Hemingway was famous for his “square, tight” prose, which was influenced by his experience as a journalist and as a soldier. He was an ambulance driver during World War I and he volunteered on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Of his stories, my two personal favorites are “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “Old Man and the Sea.” I recently watched the documentary “Spanish Earth,” made in 1937, filmed during and about the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway narrated it, along with Orson Welles. He also cowrote the script, along with another favorite writer of mine, John Dos Passos.


Today in Labor History July 21, 1936: Anarchists created the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias of Catalonia, establishing an anarcho-syndicalist economy in Catalonia.

Today in Writing History July 21, 1956Michael Connelly, American author was born. He wrote crime fiction featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.


Today in Labor History July 21, 1964: Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) blueberry pickers went on strike near Grand Junction, Michigan.

Today in Writing History July 21, 2015E. L. Doctorow, American novelist, short story writer, and playwright died.

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