Today in Labor History April 29, 1894: Jacob Coxey led a group of 500 unemployed workers to Washington, D.C. They demanded federal jobs for the poor. The authorities promptly arrested Coxey and many of his followers for trespassing on Capitol grounds.
The Return of Coxey’s Army (By Eddie Starr)
When they busted all the unions,
You can’t make a living wage.
And this working poor arrangement,
Gonna turn to public rage.
And then get ready,
We’re gonna bring back Coxey’s Army
And take his message to the street.
The financial panic of 1893 caused one of the worst depressions the country had ever seen. It lasted five years and caused unemployment to reach 18%. Banks failed. And currency supplies dried up after Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Coxey owned a sand quarry and was personally wealthy. But he was outraged at the government’s lack of response to the poverty he saw around him. So, he organized a march on Washington to demand jobs for the poor.
Coxey’s Army inspired many references in fiction. Frank Baum witnessed the march. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the tin man represented the industrial worker. The scarecrow represented the poor farmer. And the cowardly lion was William Jennings Bryan. The yellow brick road represented the gold standard, because a gold shortage caused the Panic. Jack London participated in the march and referenced it in Two Thousand Stiffs. It is also mentioned in the play, Inherit the Wind.
Today in Labor History April 29, 1895: The U.S. sent warships to Nicaragua to “protect” US interests. This was the first of many military interventions in that country. President Taft ordered the overthrow of President Zelaya in 1909. The U.S. later invaded in 1910 and occupied the country in 1912. However, the original Sandinistas defeated that occupation in 1933. But, Sandino’s victory was short-lived because, in 1934, Anastasio Somoza assassinated him. Somoza brutally ruled Nicaragua for the next forty years, until the new Sandinistas overthrew him in 1979. And then, again, the U.S. intervened. This time, by funding the right-wing Contras. Later, when Congress blocked aid to the Contras, Reagan secretly funded them with illegal arms shipments to Iran.
April 29, 1899: Jazz legend Duke Ellington was born on this day.
Today in Labor History April 29, 1899: Members of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) blew up the Bunker Hill mine in Wardner, Idaho. They did this because the mine owners refused to respect their demand to hire only union men. They seized a train, loaded it with 3,000 pounds of dynamite, and drove it into the mine. The bombing completely destroyed the $250,000 colliery. President McKinley responded by sending in black soldiers from Brownsville, Texas. He ordered them to round up the miners and imprison them in specially built “bullpens.” From 1899 to 1901, the U.S. Army occupied most of the Coeur d’Alene mining region in Idaho. Big Bill Haywood was one of the WFM organizers. He described the bullpens as unfit for cattle.
April 29, 1915: The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was founded in The Hague. The organization worked for world disarmament, full rights for women, and racial and economic justice. Jane Addams served as its first president. She also founded and directed Hull House in Chicago for newly arrived immigrants. And she co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. As a result of this work, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
Today in Labor History April 29, 1916: After six days of fighting, Irish rebel leaders surrendered to British forces in Dublin. This ended the Easter Rising.
April 29, 1919: From April 29 to May 2, government forces in Munich attacked the Bavarian Soviet Republic. But workers, socialists and anarchists bravely resisted. However, the Freikorps and the White Guards of Capitalism prevailed. They killed hundreds in the fighting and over 1,000 in the days that followed. The motto of the soviet republic was: “Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt Euch!” or “Workers of the World, unite!” Initially, USPD members ruled the republic. This included anarchists Gustav Landauer and Silvio Gesell, and the playwright Erich Muhsam. Another USPD member, Ernst Toller, was also a playwright. He described their revolution as the “Bavarian Revolution of Love.”
Today in Labor History April 29, 1937: The Friends of Durruti Group put up posters throughout Barcelona, Spain. Their posters demanded: “All power to the working class. All economic power to the unions.” The Group was named after Buenoventura Durruti, a Spanish anarchist who was killed in 1936, fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
April 29, 1945: U.S. troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp.
Today in Labor History April 29, 1968: The musical, Hair, opened at the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway. The musical was a product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s. As such, it was controversial for its day. Consequently, its producers had difficulty securing mainstream venues. Several of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Today in Labor History April 29, 1980: English-American director and Alfred Hitchcock died on this day.
April 29, 1991 – A cyclone struck southeastern Bangladesh, killing at least 138,000 people. Additionally, the disaster made ten million people homeless.
Today in Labor History April 29, 1992 – People rioted in Los Angeles and protested in other major cities in response to the Rodney King verdict. Despite video footage of police brutally beating a defenseless King, the jury acquitted all the cops involved. Over the next three days, 64 people died and hundreds of buildings were destroyed. In San Francisco, African American youth chased cops down the street with bats. And protesters shattered the facade of Bank of America with a concrete bus bench. I also remember having to duck behind a car to avoid being shot by a scared shop owner.
The violent police assault on King was one of the first to go viral in the digital age. As a result, it inspired hundreds of protests and ushered in a new era of citizens documenting police brutality. However, the riots in L.A. also included an anti-Asian pogrom. 2,300 Korean businesses were looted or burned and hundreds of Koreans suffered from PTSD. 64 people died in the riots, including 2 Asians, 28 African Americans, 19 Latinos and 15 whites.