Today in Labor History January 2

Today in Labor History January 2, 1791: The Big Bottom massacre in the Ohio Country. After the American Revolutionary War, the U.S. government sold land in the Ohio Country, mostly to white-owned companies that promised to develop it. However, the land was already occupied by Lenape and Wyandot people, who attacked the interlopers, killing 14 settlers. This led to the Northwest War, which continued until 1794.


Today in Labor History January 2, 1800: The free black community of Philadelphia, led by Absalom Jones, petitioned Congress to abolish slavery and to end the fugitive slave act of 1793. 

Today in Labor History January 2, 1873Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) was born on this date. He was a Dutch astronomer, mathematician and radical left-communist. Among other works, he published the pamphlet “Darwinism and Marxism,” 1916, which strongly attacked the social Darwinists, like Spencer. He also wrote the classic, “Workers Councils” and was one of the founders of the Council Communism movement. 


Today in Labor History January 2, 1905: 23 industrial unionists met in Chicago. They called for an industrial Union Congress to meet in Chicago on June 27—a meeting that would lead to the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World (AKA: IWW or “Wobblies”).

Palmer Raids

Today in Labor History January 2, 1920: The US Department of Justice launched the second Palmer Raid. In these nationally coordinate raids, they arrested 6,000 suspected communists and anarchists and held them without trial. In particular, they targeted Italian, Eastern European and Jewish immigrants with alleged leftist, anarchist or union affiliations.

Attorney General A Mitchell Palmer orchestrated and led the first set of raids in 1919. However, his young protégé, J. Edgar Hoover, orchestrated and led the much more successful 1920 raids. Hoover convinced the Department of Labor to let him not alert arrestees of their right to an attorney. His agents also made thousands of arrests and seizures without search warrants. They also illegally entrapped people with agents provocateur. Because their raids targeted entire organizations, agents arrested everyone in the meeting halls and offices, including visitors who didn’t even belong to the targeted organization. Lawyers created the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in direct response to the Palmer raids.


Today in Labor History January 2, 1921: Karel Čapek’s science fiction play “R.U.R.” premiered. “R.U.R.” stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” The play introduced the word “robot” to the English language and to the world of science fiction. He derived the word “Robot” from the Czech word for forced labor by Serfs. The play is an archetype for many of the science fiction stories and films that followed, like Bladerunner, West World and Terminator, and others about robots, replicants and hosts that rebel against humans. However, “R.U.R.,” like Čapek’s 1936 novel “War with the Newts,” is also a satirical critique of totalitarianism, which was already on the rise in Europe at the time he wrote the play.


Today in Labor History January 2, 1951Edith New, English militant suffragette (b. 1877) died on this date. New was one of the two suffragettes who introduced vandalism as a tactic. In the early 1900s, she left teaching and became an organizer for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). In January 1908, she chained herself to the railings at 10 Downing Street shouting “Votes for Women!” as a diversion for fellow suffragettes to sneak inside. During a demonstration in June 1908, New and Mary Leigh broke two windows at 10 Downing Street. They went to prison for this. During their court sentencing, they threatened to use bombs next time. After their release, suffragettes held a parade in their honor.

Today in Labor History January 2, 1978: Pakistani President, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, ordered paramilitary forces to shoot peaceful protesting workers during the Multan Colony Textile Massacre. The strike began on December 29, 1977, with workers peacefully and successfully shutting down the factory. On January 2, the daughter of mill owner was getting married. Her dowry was ten times higher than the bonus owed to the workers. Because of a rumor that strikers intended to attack the wedding, President Zia-ul-Haq ordered the state paramilitary force to shoot workers and crush the strike.

The gunfire continued for hours. As people fled the gunfire, they crushed many of their comrades to death. Soldiers prevented people from carrying the wounded to the hospital. Consequently, many of the injured died from blood loss. Many corpses were thrown into the factory gutter. Others were dumped into mass graves. The Workers Action Committee estimated that 133 people died in the massacre and over 400 were injured.

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