Today in Labor History, March 31, 1492: Queen Isabella of Castile issued the Alhambra Decree. The decree ordered the 150,000 remaining Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or be expelled. Two-thirds of Spain’s 300,000 Jews converted as a result of the decree and persecution in the years prior. Because of the decree, Spain then expelled another 40,000-100,000 Jews.
March 31, 1761: The second Lisbon earthquake in 6 years occurred. This quake was estimated at magnitude 8.6 on the Richter scale. It caused one of the only documented trans-Atlantic tsunamis. Large waves were seen in Cornwall, Sicily, Barbados and the Azores. At least 50,000 people died.
Today in Labor History, March 31, 1809: Nikolai Gogol, the Russian-Ukrainian novelist, was born. Gogol was one of the first authors to use surrealism and absurdism. (See “The Nose,” “The Overcoat,” and “Nevsky Prospekt.”) In his classic, “Dead Souls,” he satirizes the nobility. Landowners measured their wealth by the number of “souls,” or serfs, they owned. Because they were cheaper, the protagonist, Tchitchikov, buys dead souls to improve his social standing. Gogol influenced several generations of writers, including Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. The gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello, took their name from him.
March 31, 1840: President Van Buren issued an Executive Order providing for a 10-hour work day for all employees on federal public works projects.
March 31, 1883: Cowboys in the Texas panhandle began a 2-and-a-half-month strike for higher wages.
Today in Labor History, March 31, 1913: The Vienna Concert Society rioted during a performance of modernist music. The audience was shocked and offended by the weird music of Schoenberg, Berg, Zemlinsky, and von Webern. Their violent rioting forced a premature end to the concert, which became known as the Skandalkonzert (scandal concert).
March 31, 1921: Organizers formed the Brookwood Labor College in New York to provide adult education for workers. In order to to build class consciousness among workers, unions and reformers began creating labor colleges in the 1910s. A.J. Muste ran Brookwood under the influence of his friend, education reformer John Dewey. Some of Brookwood’s students were future UAW leaders Walter and Roy Reuther, civil rights organizer Ella Baker, and feminist, civil rights leader Pauli Murray.
Today in Labor History, March 31, 1927: Birth of Cesar Chavez.
March 31, 1941: Wisconsin state troopers attacked striking auto workers in Milwaukee. UAW Local 248 succeeded in holding off scabs for more than two months. The strike ended only after a government-negotiated compromise.
March 31, 1949: The Canadian Seaman’s Union launched a six-month strike.
Today in Labor History, March 31, 1966: Organizers launched a two-day boycott of Seattle schools in order to protest segregation. Organizers included the Central Area Civil Rights Committee (CACRC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Because they wanted to educate students who boycotted class, they set up eight “Freedom Schools.” However, so many students honored the boycott that they had to scramble to come up with dozens more. The “Freedom Schools” taught African American history and the history of the civil rights movement, among other things.
March 31, 1990: 200,000 people protested against the new Poll Tax in London.