Today in Labor History December 30, 1066: A Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada, crucified the Jewish vizier, Joseph ibn Naghrela, and massacred most of the Jewish population of the city during the Granada massacre. Before the massacre, Joseph promised the ruler of Almeria that he’d open the gates of the city to his army. In exchange, he promised to install Joseph as king of Granada. However, word of the plot got out to the public. And with it, the false rumor that he had already killed the king of Granada. Muslim mobs stormed the palace and captured and crucified Joseph. They then slaughtered thousands of Jews.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1853: The U.S. made the Gadsden
Purchase from Mexico on this date. They purchased lands south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande for the transcontinental railroad. This greatly benefited the Southern Pacific Railroad. It also provided great benefit to Texas ranchers, who gained rich grazing lands to the west. The Santa Anna government in Mexico made $10 million on the deal ($230 million in today’s dollars). It was immensely unpopular among Mexicans. However, he likely made the deal out of fear that the U.S. would simply seize the territory for free. The U.S. had recently seized most of its current southwestern territory during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848).
During the Civil War, the Confederate States of America seized a portion of the Gadsden Purchase. In the 1860s there were regular conflicts between Apaches and Americans. There were also regular battles between outlaws and local ranchers. This was particularly true in the area around Tombstone, home of the famed lawman Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The Gunfight at O.K. Corral was the culmination of years of tension between local Democrats from the agricultural south and Republican businessmen from the industrial north. The region from this period plays prominently in Cormack McCarthy’s novels, like “Blood Meridian.”
Today in Labor History December 30, 1883: “John Swinton’s Paper” one of the most prominent labor newspapers of its time, described the abuse of immigrants conned by job sharks lured to the U.S. with tales of high wages and dream jobs, only to get stuck in terrible jobs with rotten wages. His exposes sometimes used undercover reporters and occasionally led to new legislation to protect workers.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1890: Victor Serge was born on this date in Brussels. Serge was a novelist, poet, historian, & militant activist, most well-known as a member of the Bonnot Gang and for his novel, “The Birth of Our Power.” He was in Barcelona during their anarchist uprising and contributed to the CNT’s newspaper, “Tierra y Libertad.” He went to Russia in 1918, initially in support of the communists. However, he quickly became disillusioned with the repressive, autocratic rule, criticized the party and was imprisoned.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1890: The Drexel Mission Fight between Lakota warriors and the United States Army took place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. The U.S. Army relied on Buffalo Soldiers, which was what Native Americans called the black soldiers fighting for the U.S. government.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1896: Filipino patriot and reform advocate José Rizal was executed by a Spanish firing squad in Manila for rebellion during the Philippine Revolution. However, he was not actively involved in the planning or fighting. He was an ophthalmologist by profession, and a writer and a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement, which advocated for political reforms for the colony under Spain. The American Governor General William Howard Taft suggested making Rizal a national hero since he was dead and because he had been non-violent. These were both qualities which didn’t threaten American rule or change the status quo.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1903: A fire at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, Illinois killed at least 605 people. It was the deadliest theater fire and the deadliest single-building fire in U.S. history. The owners advertised the building as being “Absolutely Fireproof.” However, a Chicago Fire Department captain made an unofficial tour of the theater just prior to the official opening. He noted that there were no sprinklers, alarms, telephones, or water connections. He pointed out the deficiencies to the theater’s fire warden. The fire warden replied that he’d be fired if he brought the matter up with management.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1905: Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho was assassinated by a bomb. Steunenberg had been elected on a Populist Party “defend the working man” ticket. But then he called on federal troops to crush the 1899 miners’ strike. Authorities promptly blamed members of the radical WFM, including Big Bill Haywood.
The actual assassin was Harry Orchard, a WFM union member who was also a paid informant and agent provocateur for the Cripple Creek Mine Owners’ Association. The investigation was conducted by Pinkerton agent James McParland, the same man who infiltrated the Ancient Order of Hibernians in eastern Pennsylvania and acted as an agent provocateur, leading to the wrongful executions of 20 Irish miners. After interrogation by McParland, Orchard signed a 64-page typed confession claiming that he had been hired to kill Steunenberg by the WFM leadership (“Big Bill” Haywood; General Secretary, Charles Moyer; and President George Pettibone). Superstar labor lawyer Clarence Darrow got all three WFM defendants acquitted. Orchard pled guilty and received a death sentence in a separate trial, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Today in Labor History December 30, 1936: Auto workers began their historic sit-down strike at the GM Fisher plant in Flint, Michigan. The protest effectively changed the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from a collection of small local unions into a major national labor union. It also led to the unionization of the domestic automobile industry. By occupying the plant, they prevented management from bringing in scabs and keeping the plant running and making money. Furthermore, by occupying the plant, they weren’t forced to picked outside in the snow.
On January 11, police armed with guns and tear gas tried to storm the plant. Strikers repeatedly repelled them by throwing hinges, bottles and bolts at them. Fourteen strikers were injured by police gunfire during the strike. In February, GM got an injunction against the union by Judge Edward Black, who owned over three thousand shares of GM. The strikers ignored the injunction. And when the UAW found out about the conflict of interests, they got the judge disbarred. The strike ended after 44 days with GM recognizing the union and giving its workers a 5% raise. Filmmaker Michael Moore’s uncle participated in the strike.