Today in Labor History July 22

The Great Upheaval

Today in Labor History July 22, 1877: A General Strike began in St. Louis, as part of the national Great Upheaval. The St. Louis strike was the first General Strike in U.S. history. The communist Workingman’s Party was the main organizer. In addition to joining in solidarity with striking rail workers, thousands in other trades came out to fight for the 8-hour day and an end to child labor. 3,000 federal troops and 5,000 deputized police (i.e., vigilantes) ended the strike by killing at least 18 people and arresting at least 70.

The strike wave started in Martinsburg, WV, on July 16, and quickly spread along the railroad lines throughout the country. On July 21, 1887, 20 striking railroad workers were killed by state troopers in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania during the Great Upheaval. I am currently working on the second book of my “Great Upheaval” trilogy, “Hot Summer in the Smoky City,” which takes place in Pittsburgh during the Great Upheaval.

1880s

Today in Labor History July 22, 1886: San Francisco brewery workers won their month-long battle with local breweries. They won the following concessions: free beer for workers, the closed shop, freedom to live anywhere (until now they were forced to live in the brewery itself), a 10-hour day, six-day week, and a board of arbitration.

1890s

Today in Labor History July 22, 1892: Anarchist Alexander Berkman tried to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick in retaliation for the 9 miners killed by Pinkerton thugs on July 6, during the Homestead Steel Strike. Frick was the manager of Homestead Steel and had hired the Pinkertons to protect the factory and the scab workers he hired to replace those who were on strike. Berkman, and his lover, Emma Goldman, planned the assassination hoping it would arouse the working class to rise up and overthrow capitalism. Berkman failed in the assassination attempt and went to prison for 14 years. He wrote a book about his experience called, “Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist” (1912). He also wrote “The Bolshevik Myth” (1925) and “The ABC of Communist Anarchism(1929).

Today in Writing History July 22, 1898: Stephen Vincent Benét was born. Benet was a poet, short story writer and novelist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book-length epic poem about the Civil War, “John Brown’s Body,” (1928).

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave.
Spread over it the bloodstained flag of his song,
For the sun to bleach, the wind and the birds to tear,
The snow to cover over with a pure fleece
And the New England cloud to work upon
With the grey absolution of its slow, most lilac-smelling rain,
Until there is nothing there
That ever knew a master or a slave
Or, brooding on the symbol of a wrong,
Threw down the irons in the field of peace.
John Brown is dead, he will not come again,
A stray ghost-walker with a ghostly gun.

1910s

This photo was given to me by a friend of a friend’s father.

Today in Labor History July 22, 1916: Someone set off a bomb during the pro-war “Preparedness Day” parade in San Francisco. As a result, 10 people died and 40 were injured. A jury convicted two labor leaders, Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings, based on false testimony. Both were pardoned in 1939. Not surprisingly, only anarchists were suspected in the bombing. A few days after the bombing, they searched and seized materials from the offices of “The Blast,” Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman’s local paper. They also threatened to arrest Berkman.

In 1931, while they were still in prison, I. J. Golden persuaded the Provincetown Theater to produce his play, “Precedent,” about the Mooney and Billings case. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times wrote, “By sparing the heroics and confining himself chiefly to a temperate exposition of his case [Golden] has made “Precedent” the most engrossing political drama since the Sacco-Vanzetti play entitled Gods of the Lightening… Friends of Tom Mooney will rejoice to have his case told so crisply and vividly.”

Today in Labor History July 22, 1917: The IWW successfully shut down the oil industry in Tampico, Mexico during an oil workers’ strike. 

1920s-1930s

Today in Labor History July 22, 1920: Police raided the Santiago, Chile, IWW headquarters. In Valparaiso, police planted dynamite in the Wobbly union hall and arrested most of the IWW organizers for terrorism. The raids were in retaliation for the three-month strike that year in which the IWW tried to prevent the export of grains at a time of famine and commodities profiteering. 

Today in Labor History July 22, 1936: The Popular Executive Committee of Valencia took power in Valencia, Spain, during the Civil War.

1940s

Today in Labor History July 22, 1946: In a terrorist attack, the right-wing Zionist group, Irgun, bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people. The hotel was the site of the civil administration and military headquarters for Mandatory Palestine, a League of Nations political entity set up from 1920-1948. During World War I, the UK promised independence to the Arabs in Palestine if they rose up against the Ottomans, who controlled the Levant at that time. The Palestinian Arabs did rise up, helping to force out the Turks. However, the British betrayed them, dividing up the land with the French under the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

During that same time, Jewish militias were organizing to create an independent Jewish state in Palestine. The attack on the King David was part of the “Jewish Insurgency” (AKA “Palestine Emergency”), a paramilitary campaign carried out by underground Jewish terrorist organizations against the British in order to create a Jewish state. Disguised as Arab workmen and waiters, Irgun operatives gained access to the hotel basement, where they placed a bomb. They did it in retaliation for Operation Agatha, when the British authorities raided Jewish Insurgency members’ homes and offices and arrested many of their members. Much of the British intelligence on the Jewish militias was stored in the King David Hotel.

Today in Writing History July 22, 1948: Young adult author S. E. Hinton was born. She wrote her first novel, “The Outsiders,” (1967) when she was still in high school. It was inspired by two rival gangs at her Oklahoma school, the Greasers and the Socs. Others quickly followed, like “That Was Then, This is Now” (1971) and “Rumblefish” (1975).

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