Today in Labor History January 12


Today in Labor History January 12, 1848: The Palermo rising began in Sicily against. It was the first of many revolutions that occurred that year in Europe. Three times the people of Sicily rose up against Bourbon rule in the 1800s. This time they succeeded, creating an independent state that survived for 16 months. Their new constitution included a proposal to confederate the Italian states into a single nation. It set the stage for the final end of the Bourbon kingdom in 1860, initiated by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Three days prior to the Palermo rising, activists distributed posters and notices organizing the people for the revolt.


Today in Labor History January 12, 1876: Working class novelist Jack London was born. As a kid, he was an oyster pirate in Oakland, along the shores of the San Francisco Bay. As a young man, he became a hobo, riding the rails from town to town, looking for handouts and sometimes work. He wrote about these experiences in his short novel, “The Road.”

He was also a lifelong alcoholic, which contributed to his early death. In his novel, “John Barleycorn,” he wrote about both his alcoholism and his experiences as a laborer in numerous low-paid, backbreaking jobs. He was also a socialist and a champion of unions and working-class activism. With respect to strikebreakers, he famously wrote: “After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.” London was also one of the first Haoles (non-Native Hawaiian, or white person) to learn how to surf in Hawaii.


Today in Labor History January 12, 1915: The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a proposal to require states to give women the right to vote. The first place in the world where women got the right to vote was New Jersey, in 1776. However, in 1807 this was repealed and it reverted back to white men, only.

The first place to continuously give suffrage to women was Pitcairn Islands, in 1838. These were the descendants of Tahitians and Christian Fletcher and other mutineers from the HMS Bounty. The first sovereign nation to give women the right to vote was Norway, in 1913. The U.S. finally granted women the right to vote in 1920. Women won suffrage in Canada in 1917, Britain and Germany in 1918, Austria and Holland in 1919. Women could not vote in France until 1944, or in Greece until 1952, or in Switzerland until 1971, or in Saudi Arabia until 2015.

Today in Labor History January 12, 1918: The Minnie Pit Disaster coal mining accident occurred in Halmer End, Staffordshire. The firedamp explosion caused the worst mining disaster ever in the North Staffordshire Coalfield. 155 men and boys died. However, it wasn’t the only disaster at the Minnie pit. In 1898, an explosion killed all the pit ponies. And in 1915, another explosion killed nine miners.


Today in Labor History January 12, 1928: Police raided the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) Halls, in Walsenburg and Trinidad Colorado. They killed two union members in the process. This was near the site of the Ludlow Massacre where, in 1914, National Guards slaughtered 21 people, including two women and eleven children, on behalf of John D. Rockefeller.

Conditions were still deplorable in the 1920s, with 12-hour days, 6-day work weeks, and regular fatalities in the mines. The IWW had been leading a miners’ strike in the region since October 18, 1927. Over 8,000 men walked out, shutting down 113 out of 126 mines in the state. Police routinely arrested picketers en masse. They’d move them from jail to jail to make it harder for their lawyers to find them. Sometimes they deported them from the state and threatened to shoot them if they returned. The strike ended in February, with concessions to the workers, but no IWW representation.


Today in Labor History January 12, 1932: 12,000 marchers from Father Cox’s Shantytown in Pittsburg arrived in Washington, D.C. The shantytown, near St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, lasted from 1929 to 1932, and was the staging base for the Reverend James Cox’s unemployed army. On December 1931, 60,000 unemployed workers had rallied at Pitt Stadium in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. 

Today in Labor History January 12, 1933: The anarchist uprisings which began on January 8 in Spain were brutally suppressed. However, in Andalusia, anarcho-trade unionists attacked police and army buildings. They seized public buildings, proclaiming Libertarian Communism there. But the government responded with intense repression. The assassinated villagers and burned many alive in the town of Casas Viejas. 


Today in Labor History January 12, 1962: President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, guaranteeing federal workers the right to join unions & bargain collectively.

Today in Labor History January 12, 1964: Rebels in Zanzibar began a revolt known as the Zanzibar Revolution. The poorly armed revolutionaries initially had no guns and fought with spears, knives, machetes and tire irons. They quickly overwhelmed the poorly trained police and obtained their guns. They eventually overthrew of the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government and proclaimed a socialist republic. East Germany, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China all established friendly relations with the new government.


Today in Labor History January 12, 1971: The U.S. government indicted the Harrisburg Seven on charges of conspiring to kidnap the war criminal, Henry Kissinger, and plotting to blow up the heating tunnels of federal buildings in Washington, D.C. Most of the activists were Catholic priests and nuns, including Rev. Philip Berrigan. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark led the defense team. The jury deliberated for almost 60 hours, but remained hung. Consequently, the defendants were freed.

Today in Labor History January 12, 2010: An earthquake in Haiti occurred, destroying most of the capital Port-au-Prince. Between 220,000 and 300,000 people died.

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