Levellers and Diggers
Today in Labor History April 26, 1649: The English authorities sentenced Robert Lockier to be shot for leading a mutiny.
Cromwell’s New Model Army had just defeated Charles I in the English Civil War. However, the Army failed to negotiate a settlement with the King. As a result, a conflict arose between monarchists, who wanted another king, and Cromwell, who wanted a plutocratic Parliament. Then there were the Levellers, who wanted every male head of household to have a vote, regardless of whether he owned property. And the Diggers (AKA the True Levellers), who wanted universal suffrage AND common ownership of the land.
Lockier was a Leveller and a member the New Model Army. On April 24, he and some other soldiers barricaded themselves in a Leveller meeting place in London. They demanded to paid their overdue wages. Cromwell ended the mutiny after a few days and arrested Lockier as the ringleader.
The Diggers originally called themselves the True Levellers, to distinguish themselves from the more moderate Levellers. However, in April, 1649, they began pulling down enclosures (common lands usurped by the landlords) on St. George’s Hill. And when they started planting the land in common, for the benefit of all peasants, people started calling them Diggers. Needless to say, the local landlords were peeved. They asked the New Model Army to come in and remove the Diggers. However, their commander told the landlords to use the courts. So, the landlords organized gangs to beat and burn out the Diggers. Ultimately, the court ruled that the Army could evict the Diggers if they did not leave. So, they left. But they started new commons in neighboring regions.
Today in Labor History April 26, 1862: Congress passed the Anti-Coolie Act of 1862. They also called it, “An Act to Protect Free White Labor.” The law was one of a series of xenophobic laws enacted specifically to block the immigration of Chinese to the U.S., particularly to California.
April 26, 1873: Captain Jacks’ band of Modocs killed twenty U.S. soldiers and four officers in the “Thomas-Wright Massacre.” They also wounded sixteen others, while a third of the U.S. troops fled. The Modocs suffered no deaths.
Today in Labor History April 26, 1902: The U.S. Congress continued its xenophobic and racist practices by passing the second Chinese Exclusion Act. This law barred Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. for the next 10 years. It also denied citizenship to the Chinese already here. In 1904 the act was extended indefinitely.
April 26, 1924: The U.S. House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution No. 184. It was a constitutional amendment to prohibit the labor of persons under 18 years of age. The Senate approved the measure a few weeks later, but it was never ratified by the states and is still technically pending.
Today in Labor History April 26, 1933: The Nazis established the Gestapo, their secret police force.
April 26, 1937: The Nazis bombed Guernica, a town in the Basque region of Spain. Later that year, Picasso painted his famous painting, Guernica, in protest of the atrocity. This was during the Spanish Civil War. The Republicans, a coalition of anarchist, socialists and communists, were fighting the Nationalists, led by the fascist, Francisco Franco. The Nazis bombed Guernica for two hours. They killed between 1,000 and 3,000 civilians, or 20-60% of the population.
Today in Labor History April 26, 1942: The Honkeiko mine exploded in Benxi, China. The explosion killed between 1,549 and 1,572 miners. It was deadliest mining disaster ever.
April 26, 1960: Students and workers forced South Korean President Syngman Rhee to resign after 12 years of dictatorial rule. The protests began on April 11 after the police killed a high school student. The student’s skull had been split by a tear gas canister. On April 19, the police shot into a demonstration of 100,000 people in Seoul, killing 180 people. They killed 186 people, overall, during the two weeks of demonstrations. Rhee fled to the U.S.
Today in Labor History April 26, 1966: Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales started the Chicano activist group Crusade for Justice in Denver, Colorado. Gonzales was a poet, activist and boxer.
April 26, 1968: One million high school and college students across U.S. protested the war in Viet Nam.
Today in Labor History April 26, 1975: 60,000 people marched on Washington, D.C., demanding jobs for all Americans. Angry people rushed the stage, which included mainstream politicians like Hubert Humphrey. As a result, the rally was shut down prematurely.
April 26, 1986: The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in Ukraine, U.S.S.R.
Today in Labor History April 26, 2004: Author Hubert Selby died. He wrote “Last Exit to Brooklyn” and “Requiem for a Dream.” His first novel, “The Queen is Dead,” was banned in Italy and prosecuted for obscenity in the U.K. Allan Ginsberg thought that Last Exit would “explode like a rusty hellish bombshell over America and still be eagerly read in a hundred years.” Selby dropped out of high school to work on the docks of Brooklyn, before becoming a merchant seaman in 1947. However, he caught tuberculosis from the cows on board the ship. He was in and out of hospitals for the next three years. Doctors told him he was going to die. But several surgeries and experimental drugs saved his life. Too sick to do physical labor, he tried writing to earn a living.