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Seeds of Fire: A People’s Chronology
– May –
Recalling events that happened on this day in history. Memories of struggle, resistance and persistence.
Compiled by Ulli Diemer
May 1623 English colonists in what is now the U.S. state of Virginia finally agree to negotiate a peace agreement with the indigenous Powhatans, whose land they have been continuously seizing since the colony was founded in 1607. A solemn peace ceremony takes places in Jamestown, attended by the colonists and by 250 Powhatans. At a carefully chosen moment, the leader of the colonists proposes a toast to celebrate the accord. The drinks which the colonists hand to the Powhatans have been meticulously prepared: they are all laced with poison. 200 Powhatans die on the spot. 50 who fail to succumb to the poison are slaughtered by the colonists. The man who masterminded the poisoning, Dr. John Pott, is subsequently rewarded by being chosen Governor of the Colony of Virginia.
May 1972 The first issue of the feminist newspaper The Other Woman is published in Toronto.
May Day – International Workers’ Day
May Day has been celebrated as a spring festival in the northern hemisphere since ancient times. It was associated with Walpurgis Night celebrations in Germanic countries, with the Roman festival for the goddess Flora, and with the Gaelic Beltane.
May 1, 1891 Police in Fourmies, France, open fire on a peaceful May Day march of workers demonstrating for the eight-hour day, killing nine, and wounding 35.
May 1, 1910 Birth of Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987), Marxist-Humanist philosopher.
May 1, 1927 Police in Berlin attack Communist May Day demonstrators, killing 27 and injuring hundreds.
May 1, 1933 Publication of the first issue of the Catholic Worker, marking the beginning of the Catholic Worker Movement.
May 1, 1946 The Pilbara Strike: Indigenous pastoral workers in the Pilbara region of Australia walk off the job. The strike goes on until 1949, and is considered a major landmark in the struggle of indigenous Australians for their rights.
May 1, 1960 The Soviet Union shoots down an American U2 spy plane deep over Soviet territory. The flight is part of a series of U.S. spy flights which rely on the inability of the Soviet air defense systems to reach the high-altitude U2s. When the plane is lost, the U.S. first denies that the plane was on a spy mission, claiming that it was a weather research aircraft that had accidentally strayed across the Soviet border and that there “was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been.” Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev then reveals that the plane was shot down more than a thousand kilometres inside Soviet territory, that the surveillance equipment on the plane has been recovered intact, and that the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, has been captured alive. The U.S. then concedes the Soviet account is accurate, but refuses to apologize.
May 1, 1970 The United States, unable to achieve victory in its war against Vietnam, widens the war by invading Cambodia and beginning massive bombing raids over the Cambodian countryside. The invasion is met by nation-wide protests in the United States.
May 1, 1971 Large-scale civil disobedience actions begin in Washington protesting the American war against Vietnam. Over the next few days, some 13,000 people are arrested. The mass arrests help to turn public opinion further against the government and against the war.
May 1, 1977 Following a 24-hour occupation of two proposed nuclear power plants in Seabrook, New Hampshire, 1,414 people are arrested.
May 1, 1986 One million South Africans demonstrate their opposition to apartheid in a strike organized by the trade union federation COSATU.
May 2, 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising. People in Madrid rebel against the occupation of the city by French forces. Street fighting pits poorly armed citizens against the French army. The rebellion is put down, and the French engage in brutal reprisals.
May 2, 1896 American forces intervene in Nicaragua to ‘protect American interests.’
May 2, 1939 The National Film Board of Canada is founded.
May 2, 1963 Police in Birmingham Alabama arrest 959 black children singing “We Shall Overcome”.
May 2, 1963 Large protests against the Vietnam War take place in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Madison.
May 2, 1967 The Russell War Crimes Tribunal in Stockholm, organized by philosopher Bertrand Russell, begins its hearings into the conduct of the American war against Vietnam. The tribunal unanimously concludes that the United States has committed acts of aggression against Vietnam under the terms of international law. It also concludes that “We find the government and armed forces of the United States are guilty of the deliberate, systematic and large-scale bombardment of civilian targets, including civilian populations, dwellings, villages, dams, dikes, medical establishments, leper colonies, schools, churches, pagodas, historical and cultural monuments. We also find unanimously, with one abstention, that the government of the United States of America is guilty of repeated violations of the sovereignty, neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia, that it is guilty of attacks against the civilian population of a certain number of Cambodian towns and villages.”
May 3, 1808 French occupation forces take brutal reprisals against the citizens of Madrid after the failed uprising of the previous day. Hundreds of people are rounded up and shot. The event is commemorated by Francisco de Goya’s painting, ‘The Third of May 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid.’
May 3, 1919 Birth of Pete Seeger, radical American folksinger.
May 3, 1926 British workers go out on a general strike. The strike is triggered by mineowners who announce that they plan to slash miners’ wages, which have already been repeatedly cut (from £6.00 to £3.90) over the course of the past seven years. When miners balk at accepting another reduction, mineowners lock them out of their workplaces on May 1. The mineowners are in a position to sit out a long dispute because they have just received a large government subsidy. The Trades Union Congress calls a General Strike to begin on May 4. Close to two million workers go out on strike. The government sets out to crush the strike, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill playing the leading role, using the army and middle-class vigilante organizations. On May 13, the TUC calls off the strike, though the miners continue to resist for several months before being driven back to work by hunger and despair.
May 3, 1936 The French election results in the victory of the “Popular Front,” a coalition of left parties, including social democrats and Communists. The Popular Front wins 386 out of 608 seats, and Socialist leader Léon Blum becomes Prime Minister. The decision to form a Popular Front grew out of concern over the growing strength of fascism, marked by the Nazi seizure of power in Germany and the growth of fascist movement in France. The Popular Front government sets out to bring in a series of reforms, including new labour laws recognizing the right to collective bargaining and an increase in the minimum wage. A lack of a clear shared program by the component parties limits the government’s achievements, and in 1938 the Popular Front dissolves itself.
Related Topics: Popular Fronts –
May 3, 1963 In Birmingham, Alabama, Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor and his men attack children on a freedom march with fire hoses and police dogs to prevent them from leaving the “Negro section” of town and reaching the downtown. The police attack comes in the midst of a series of increasingly determined anti-segregation protests in Birmingham. Television coverage of the extreme police brutality and mass arrests (by May 7, 2,500 people are in jail in Birmingham) causes outrage in the U.S. and internationally. The protests continue, and all normal life in Birmingham ceases. Suddenly the dam breaks: on May 8, Birmingham businesses agree to end segregation, on May 11 Bull Connor is thrown out of office, and on May 13 the federal government sends in 3,000 troops to take control of the city over the protests of Alabama governor George Wallace. In June the ‘Jim Crow’ signs imposing segregation come down forever.
May 3, 1968 Students at Sorbonne University in Paris gather in a mass meeting to protest the closure of the university the day before by the university administration. The administration’s action is an attempt to put a stop to the student protests that have been going on for months. It has the opposite effect: by the next week, a million people are in the streets; the week after, workers across the country go on strike and occupy factories, and France stands on the brink of revolution.
May 4, 1886 The Haymarket Affair. An unknown person throws a bomb at police at a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The rally has been called to support workers striking for the eight-hour day. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire result in the deaths of an unknown number of civilians and eight police officers, most of them shot by other police firing indiscriminately into the crowd. In the trials that follow, eight anarchists are tried for murder. Four men are convicted and executed, and one commits suicide in prison, although even the prosecution concedes that there is no evidence that any of the defendants had thrown the bomb.
May 4, 1886 The Bay View Massacre. Several thousand workers and their families are camped in a field near the Milwaukee Iron Company. Some of the workers are on strike against the company, others have come to rally in favour of the eight-hour day. On the morning of May 4, a crowd moves in the direction of the company’s property. National Guard militia, ordered by Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk to “shoot to kill” anyone who approaches the steel mill, fire directly into the crowd. Seven people are killed, including one child; many more are injured. A subsequent investigation praises the National Guard for their restraint and their humane behaviour in firing only one volley into the crowd. None of the killers is charged, but 50 strikers are sentenced to prison terms for ‘rioting’ and ‘conspiracy’.
May 4, 1916 Birth of Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), author of groundbreaking books on urban studies and economics.
May 4, 1931 The Harlan County miner’s strike of 1931-32, also known as the Harlan County War, pits 18,000 coal miners against police and gun thugs hired by the companies. On May 4, a confrontation results in the death of three company gunmen and one miner. It is in the midst of this strike that Florence Reece, married to one miner and the daughter of another, reacts to an attempt by Sheriff J.H. Blair and his thugs to intimidate her by writing the song “Which Side Are You On?” which becomes an anthem of the labour movement.
May 4, 1938 Death of Carl von Ossietzky (1889-1938), German pacifist imprisoned by the Nazis. He is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 but cannot go to receive it because he is in custody. Denied medical treatment for tuberculosis and for the injuries inflicted on him in the concentration camps, he dies in 1938, still a prisoner.
May 4, 1961 The first Freedom Riders leave Washington D.C., bound for New Orleans. The Freedom Riders are black and white activists determined to challenge the government’s failure to enforce the legal decisions which had ruled segregation illegal on interstate buses. The Freedom Riders set out on buses with blacks and whites sitting together, challenging the ongoing practice of segregation. They are attacked by Ku Klux Klan members and police (often the police are in fact members of the Klan) and repeatedly beaten en route. At one location, a mob attempts to burn the bus they are on with the Riders trapped on board. As some Riders are hospitalized or imprisoned, others set out on the same journey. At one point, 300 are imprisoned in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, where they are denied mattresses, sheets, and toothbrushes. Faced with international condemnation, the Kennedy administration first criticizes the Freedom Riders for being unpatriotic because they are embarrassing the United States in the eyes of the world, but then moves slowly and reluctantly to enforce the law. Finally in November, the Interstate Commerce Commission issues rules requiring bus companies to abide by the law, and doing away with “white” and “colored” waiting rooms, washrooms, and eating facilities in bus terminals and train stations.
May 4, 1970 The Kent State killings: Troops of the Ohio National Guard fire into a group of students protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Four students are killed; nine others are wounded, several seriously. Subsequent investigations show that there was no justification for the shooting: the soldiers were not being threatened or in any danger. Evidence shows that a number of Guards had in fact conspired to “get those bastards”, i.e. student protestors they saw as disloyal to the U.S. Despite the clear evidence that the shootings were pre-meditated murder, the government declines to lay charges.
How they shot those campus bums
May 5, 1818: Birth of Karl Marx
May 5, 1875
Karl Marx sends off his critical notes on the unity programme drafted by the two wings of the German workers’ party for their forthcoming congress. In his notes, later published under the title “Critique of the Gotha Program”, Marx criticizes his comrades in the ‘Eisenach group’ for agreeing to “a thoroughly objectionable programme that demoralises the Party.”
Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Program
May 5, 2010 Anarchists firebomb a bank in Athens. Three workers are killed.
May 6, 1856 Birth of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis.
May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister runs the first sub-four-minute mile in 3:59.4
May 6, 1968 In Paris, intensifying student protests reach a new level as the national student union and the union of university professors jointly call a march to protest against the police invasion and occupation of Sorbonne University. More than 20,000 people gather to march toward the Sorbonne, which is still sealed off by police. As they approach the vicinity of the university, police charge them with batons flailing, striking anyone they can reach. The march breaks apart, but soon people are starting to build barricades, while others throw paving stones at the police, forcing them to retreat for a time. Police regroup, start firing tear gas, and attack the crowd again. Hundreds of students and supporters are arrested. By the next day, growing numbers of workers and high school students have joined the original protesters in the streets. The mood is increasingly insurrectionary.
May 7, 1839 The Chartist campaign in Britain – named after the People’s Charter of 1837, demanding democratic reform – culminates in the presentation of a huge petition to the House of Commons. The petition is perhaps the most comprehensive expression of the popular will seen in Britain to that point: more than 1,280,000 people have signed it. The goals of the movement are increased democratization of the political system, which has been set up to restrict political rights to a small elite. Demands include universal (male) suffrage; a secret ballot; no property qualifications for members of Parliament; payment for MPs (so the poor can serve); constituencies of equal size, and annual elections. Members of Parliament, representatives of the very elite whose power the petitioners want to curtail, takes their time in responding to the petition. They wait more than two months, and then, on July 12, they overwhelmingly (235 – 46) reject a motion that the petitioners be heard in the House of Commons. This marks the high point of the first wave of the Chartist movement. The movement continues until the late 1840s, expressing itself in various working-class organizations as well as direct demands for political reform, but never manages to find the power to achieve the change it wants. The goals of the Chartist movement are eventually achieved, after the movement itself has petered out, but the hoped-for result – democracy – is not.
May 7, 1873 American forces intervene in Colombia ‘to protect American interests.’
May 7, 1898 The Bava-Beccaris massacre. Italian troops, including infantry, cavalry, and artillery, commanded by General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris, attack striking workers and their supporters in Milan. They kill 400 people and injure more than 2,000. After the slaughter, Italy’s King Umberto praises the general and awards him the medal Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine Militare dei Savoia, saying that “You have rendered a great service to the King and to the Country.” The King’s praise of his murderous general costs him his life: shortly thereafter, Umberto is assassinated by an enraged worker.
May 7, 1926 American forces intervene in Nicaragua to ‘protect American interests’. They remain, with some interruptions, until 1933.
May 7, 1954 After a two-month battle, Viet Minh resistance forces inflict a decisive defeat on the French army at Dien Bien Phu in central Vietnam. Thousands of French soldiers are killed, more than 10,000 are taken prisoner. The Vietnamese victory marks the end of the French Empire in Indochina.
May 8, 1920 Birth of Harry Rankin (1920-2002), Canadian socialist, lawyer and politician.
May 8, 1934 Start of the first Remington Rand strike. The strike starts after workers organize a union at the Remington Rand typewriter company. The company categorically refuses to recognize the union or bargain, causing the company’s 6,500 workers to go out on strike. The company does finally recognize the union in June 1936, and signs a contract, but them immediately sets out the destroy the union, leading to another bitter strike. The strike is notorious for originating the “Mohawk Valley formula,” a corporate plan to break strikes by discrediting union leaders, instigating violence, using local police and hired thugs to intimidate strikers, form puppet associations of “loyal employees”, fortify workplaces, employ large numbers of scabs, and threaten to close the plant if workers don’t submit to company demands. Company president James Rand Jr. spells out the anti-union strategy in a pamphlet which is widely distributed by the National Association of Manufacturers, and then put into practice by other companies. In March 1937, the National Labor Relations Board, normally pro-employer, renders a decision finding the company guilty of violating federal labour law. The NLRB orders the company to recognize the union and reinstate strikers it has fired with back pay. The company fights the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. It finally complies with the orders in 1940.
May 8 - 9, 1945 Germany surrenders to the allies, bringing the Second World War in Europe to an end.
May 8, 1972 The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) burn down a barn in which a separatist group in Quebec is planning to meet, in order to prevent the meeting from taking place.
May 8, 1974 Seventeen million railway workers go on strike in India: probably the largest single strike of all time. The workers are asking for better pay, improved working conditions, and more reasonable hours of work (the union’s demand is to reduce the working day to 12 hours. Indira Gandhi’s government reacts with brutal repression. Thousands of workers are imprisoned, thousands more are fired. The strike ends in defeat on May 27.
May 9, 1763 The start of Pontiac’s War. An alliance of indigenous Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons led by the Ottawa chief Pontiac lay siege to Fort Detroit, the British military stronghold in the Great Lakes area. They are angered at the British, who have recently moved into the area and are treating the native population as conquered people, while ever-increasing numbers of settlers move onto native land. The native alliance wins a number victories, including the capture of eight other British forts in the area, but are unable to capture Fort Detroit. In the course of the war, the British hit on the strategy of trying to infect the native population with smallpox by giving them contaminated blankets. The British commander, General Jeffrey Amherst, tells his subordinates that they should use this means, as well as “every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” The conflict ends in a military stalemate. The British are unable to defeat the native Americans, but the natives are unable to drive out the British. In October, the British issue a Royal Proclamation which recognizes native rights and territory, and restricts colonists to the area east of the Appalachians. The land west of the Appalachians from Florida to Quebec is recognized as an ‘Indian Reserve.’ The colonists' resentment of this restriction is one of the factors that leads to the American War of Independence thirteen years later.
May 9, 1800 Birth of John Brown (1800-1859), American abolitionist who advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to end slavery.
John Brown, Abolitionist
Related Topics: Anti-Slavery
May 9, 1832 The “Treaty of Payne’s Landing”: American colonists concoct a fraudulent ‘treaty’ under which the indigenous Seminoles of Florida supposedly agree to leave Florida.
May 9, 1921 Birth of Daniel Berrigan, American priest, peace activist, and poet.
May 9, 1934 Start of the 1934 Waterfront Strike on the west coast of the United States. Longshoremen in every port on the west coast walk out; sailors on the ships go on strike a few days later. The employers bring in large numbers of strikebreakers, housing them on ships moored offshore or in fortified compounds. Many Teamsters refuse to handle cargo loaded by scabs, leaving the goods stranded. After a bloody police attack on striking workers in July, a general strike is called in San Francisco and Oakland. The strike eventually ends in a settlement in which both employers and workers gain on some issues and lose on others. For the workers, one of the most important victories is the recognition of their unions and the end of employer-run hiring halls.
May 10, 1815 Birth of Henry Bibb (1851-1854), former slave, abolitionist, author. At the age of 27, he escapes from slavery and throws himself into the anti-slavery cause. In 1850, he publishes his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which exposes him to the danger of being recaptured and returned to slavery, he and his wife move to Canada where he starts the first black newspaper in Canada, Voice of the Fugitive.
May 10, 1837 Start of the Panic of 1837 in the United States. Speculative lending practices, a collapsing land bubble, and dodgy investments lead to a banking crisis. On May 10, banks in New York announce that they will no longer redeem commercial paper at its face value. The result is a panic: banks and businesses collapse, workers lose their jobs. The U.S. is plunged into a seven-year depression, during which unemployment rises as high as 25%. Protests by workers and the unemployed lead to a significant increase in police forces and the repressive forces of the state during this period.
May 10, 1857 Start of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Rebellion and India’s First War of Independence. Indian soldiers serving in the British East India Company’s military forces rebel against the way they are treated. The revolt spreads through much of the country and is put down by the British only with great difficulty after more than a year. The large scale of the rebellion, and the popular support it receives in many areas, make it into a virtual national revolt against colonial rule.
May 10, 1887 Birth of Albert Ginger Goodwin (1887-1918), coal miner, labour organizer, socialist. A vice-president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, Goodwin refuses to be conscripted for service in the first World War, which he describes as workers being conscripted to kill other workers. He hides in the hills near Cumberland, where in July 1918 he is hunted down and murdered by a police officer. The news of his murder sparks a general strike in Vancouver in August 1918.
May 10, 1933 The first major book burnings takes place in Nazi Germany. 25,000 “Un-German” books are burned in Berlin, with other book burnings taking place on the following nights in some 30 other university towns. Some 40,000 people gather to watch the burning in Berlin. Among those whose books are burned are Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Andre Gide, Heinrich Heine, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, V.I. Lenin, Jack London, Heinrich, Klaus, and Thomas Mann, Ludwig Marcuse, Jon Dos Passos, Arthur Schnitzler, Leon Trotsky, H.G. Wells, Emila Zola, and Stefan Zweig.
May 10, 1968 Protests continue in France despite police repression. A huge crowd congregates on the Rive Gauche in Paris. When security forces belonging to the vicious Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) block them from crossing the river, the crowd again throws up barricades, which the CRS then attack at 2:15 in the morning. In the ensuing battle, which goes on until dawn, hundreds are arrested and injured. Participants believe that among those involved are police agents provocateurs who throw Molotov cocktails and set cars on fire to provide an excuse for further repression.
May 10, 1994 Nelson Mandela becomes the first democratically elected President of South Africa, and the country’s first black President.
May 11, 1894 Start of the Pullman Strike. The strikes begins in Pullman, Illinois, when some 3,000 railway workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company go out on a wildcat strike after the company moves unilaterally to cut their wages. The strike escalates into an industry-wide confrontation between the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs, and the railway companies. At its peak, 250,000 railway workers are out on strike, and east-west railway traffic comes to a halt. After a time, the federal government intervenes in the strike on behalf of the companies, sending in federal troops to arrest the strike leaders and break the strike. 18 workers are killed. After the strikes ends, Eugene Debs is sent to prison for his role in the strike. In prison, he reads the works of Karl Marx and becomes a socialist.
May 11, 1894 Birth of Martha Graham (1894-1991), dancer and choreographer. Quote: Dance is the hidden language of the soul.
May 11, 1970 The Abortion Caravan arrives at its destination in Ottawa. The carvan was initiated by members of the Vancouver Women’s Caucus, who want to draw attention to the current abortion law in Canada, allowing abortion only in cases where a woman's health is endangered by her pregnancy. Abortions could only be performed after being approved by a three-member Therapeutic Abortion Commiteee in a hospital. The Abortion Caravan aims to emulate the On-to-Ottawa Trek of unemployed workers in 1935. It sets out from Vancouver in mid-April 1970 and travels across the country, holding meetings every night in different communities, and raising public awareness of the abortion issue. On May 11, when the Carvan arrives in Ottawa, some women gather outside the Parliament Buildings and demonstrate, while another three dozen quietly enter the vistors’ gallery of the House of Commons and chain themselves to their seats. Then, one by one, they rise from their seats, read out statements, and then chant “Free Abortion on Demand” as they are gradually removed by security guards. Their action forces Parliament to adjourn involunarily for the first time in its history.
May 11, 1973 A court throws out the Espionage Act charges laid by the federal government against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo. The two were charged for releasing the ‘Pentagon Papers’ to the media. In the late 1960s, while working as a military analyst, Ellsberg had become increasingly disturbed by the U.S. war against Vietnam, and by the way the truth about the nature of the war was being kept from the public. He eventually decides to copy the secret documents he has access to and make them available to the press. Ellsberg openly admits giving the documents to the press, saying “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.” The charges against Ellsbery and Russo are thrown out after grotesque government misconduct in the case is revealed.
Related Topics: Vietnam War
May 12, 1797 The Nore mutiny. Sailors on a number of British ships mutiny over poor working conditions and low pay. Sailors’ pay has not been increased for 140 years despite increases in the cost of living. The sailors elect delegates and ask to negotiate with the government. As support for the mutiny grows, the more radical of the sailors expand their demands to ask for end to the war with France. They blockade the approach to London, preventing merchant vessels from entering the port. Splits emerge among the more radical of the sailors, who want to sail their ships to France, and those who see this as too extreme. The divisions cause the mutiny to fall apart. 29 mutineers are hanged, and others flogged, imprisoned, or banished to Australia.
May 12 – October 23, 1902 More than 100,000 coal miners in the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania go out on strike. The miners have organized a union to represent them, and are asking for recognition of their union, as well as an increase in pay and improved working conditions. The employers, who have a large stockpile of coal and are willing to wait out a strike, are adamant that they will not recognize the union. George Baer, the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, one of the biggest employers, says the “rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for – not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country.” Eventually the federal government intervenes in the strike, and sets up a commission of inquiry to look into conditions in the mines and make recommendations. When workers testify about terrible conditions, George Baer offers this rebuttal: “These men don’t suffer. Why, hell, half of them don’t even speak English!” Nevertheless the commission recommends a 10% wage increase, and sets up arbitration boards with 50% worker representation. Though the workers fail to achieve all their goals, the 183-day strike is considered a victory, and in its aftermath union membership soars.
May 12, 1916 James Connolly, one of the main leaders of the Irish Easter Rebellion of April 1916, is executed by a British firing squad. Wounded in the fighting, Connolly is too badly injured to be able to stand: the British bring him to the execution ground by ambulance, tie him to a chair, and shoot him. His execution, and that of other rebels, causes widespread anger in Ireland and disgust abroad, and helps to turn Irish opinion strongly toward independence. Less than six years later, Britain is forced to recognize Irish independence.
May 12, 1955 Police in Singapore attack striking members of the Bus Workers’ Union with water cannons and tear gas. Workers fight back: in the fighting, two policemen, a student, and a journalist are killed, and 31 are injured. The strike ends in a victory for the workers.
May 12 – 13, 2000 A heavy rainstorm leads to flooding of the Saugeen River in southern Ontario. Floods are a regular spring occurrence on the Saugeen, but this one causes E. coli contamination of a poorly maintained well feeding the town of Walkerton’s drinking water. Sweeping cutbacks to Ontario’s environmental protection systems cause the contamination to remain undetected for days as it spreads through the town’s water system. Seven people die, hundreds become severely ill.
May 13, 1846 The United States declares war on Mexico. Support for the war comes from those, like President Polk, who see territorial expansion as America’s “Manifest Destiny,” and from southern slaveowners who want to add more slave-owning territory to the U.S. Abraham Lincoln, then a member of Congress, speaks against the war, which he describes as an expression of President Polk’s desire for “military glory – that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood.” The war ends in 1848 when Mexico is forced to accept a treaty giving the U.S. possession of all or most of the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming.
May 13, 1888 Brazil, which has imported more African slaves than any other country (nearly 40% of the 11 million Africans shipped to the western hemisphere), finally abolishes slavery.
May 13, 1901 Birth of Witold Pilecki (1901-1948), Polish resistance leader. A member of the resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland, in 1940 Pilecki deliberately allows himself to be swept up in a Nazi raid in order to be sent to the Auschwitz concentration. His plan, approved by the resistance organization, is to go to Auschwitz in order to document the atrocities taking place there and inform the world what is taking place. He remains in Auschwitz until 1943, smuggling out regular reports. His reports provide the Polish government in exile with the information it needs in order to convince the Allies that the Holocaust is taking place. In April 1943, he and two comrades escape, taking with them stolen documents. In 1944, he takes part in the Warsaw Uprising, is captured by the Germans, and imprisoned until the end of the war. After the war, and the Stalinist takeover of Poland, Pilecki documents crimes being committed by the new regime. The regime imprisons him, and executes him on May 25, 1948.
May 13, 1932 “We Want Beer” marches are held in cities all over the United States as opposition to Prohibition continues to grow. Prohibition is repealed the next year.
May 13, 1968 Workers join students in Paris in a one-day general strike. More than a million people march.
May 13, 1969 In Tucumán, Argentina, former workers of a sugar mill take the factory and its manager as hostage, demanding to be paid their unpaid wages.
May 13, 1985 Philadelphia police drop a bomb on the home of a black political group called MOVE, killing 11 people, including five children. The resulting fire also destroys 65 homes in the surrounding neighbourhood.
May 13, 2000 An explosion destroys a fireworks factory located in the middle of a working-class neighbourhood in Enschede, Netherlands. At least 20 people die and 600 are injured. 400 homes are utterly destroyed and more than 1000 severely damaged.
Abandoning the Public Interest
May 14, 1771 Birth of Robert Owen (1771-1858), British social reformer and early socialist.
May 14, 1931 Swedish soldiers called in to break a strike by pulp and paper workers in the Adalen district open fire on unarmed strikers, killing five and injuring others. One of the soldiers is subsequently court-martialed for his actions – and sentenced to three days’ imprisonment. A number of demonstrators, on the other hand, are given long sentences for participating in the demonstration that was attacked by the soldiers. In addition, the publishers of several left-wing papers who condemn the shootings are charged and convicted for violating the “Freedom of the Press Act”.
May 14, 1968 In the continuing May 1968 protests, French workers begin occupying factories, starting with a sit-down strike at the Sud Aviation plant near the city of Nantes on 14 May, then another at a Renault parts plant near Rouen, which spreads to the Renault manufacturing complexes at Flins and Boulogne-Billancourt. By May 16, some fifty factories have been occupied and 200,000 workers are on strike. By May 19, two million workers are on strike; by the following week, it is ten million, roughly two-thirds of the entire French workforce.
May 14-15, 1970 Police at Jackson State College in Mississippi open fire on a crowd of students protesting against the Vietnam War. They fire at the crowd for half a minute, firing at least 140 shots. Two students are killed; twelve wounded. Afterwards, the police claim they saw a sniper, but an FBI investigation and a commission of inquiry both find no evidence of a sniper. The Commission concludes that the police action was “unreasonable” and “unjustified” but none of the police are charged.
May 15, 1525 Massacre of Frankenhausen. Troops commanded by the Landgrave of Hesse and the Duke of Saxony attack rebellious peasants who have gathered near the town of Frankenhausen. Although a trace has been declared during which the peasants hope to negotiate about their grievances, the ‘nobles’ break the truce and attack the with 6,000 well-armed mercenary soldiers. Estimates of the number of dead on the peasant side range from 3,000 to 10,000, while on the other side, four soldiers are killed. The peasant leader Thomas Müntzer is captured, tortured, and executed.
Friedrich Engels: The Peasant War in Germany
May 15, 1919 The Winnipeg General Strike. Virtually all workers in Winnipeg go out on strike seeking wage increases and recognition for their unions. A Strike Committee co-ordinates the strike and arranges for essential services to continue. The ruling elite mobilizes to defeat the strike. A “Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand” organizes anti-strike propaganda and calls for federal government and military intervention to crush the strike. The capitalist newspapers scream that Bolsheviks have taken control, and run cartoons showing hooked-nosed Jewish radicals throwing bombs. The government dismisses virtually the entire Winnipeg Police Force because police have voted to support the strike. In their place, they bring in federal troops, militia, Royal Northwest Mounted Police, and “special constables” (hired thugs who are paid significantly more than the police were paid). Strike leaders, including J.S. Woodsworth, the future leader of the CCF) are arrested and sent to prison. On June 26, the Strike Committee calls of the strike.
May 15, 1935 Birth of Utah Phillips (1935-2008), radical folksinger, storyteller and labour organizer. Quote: “Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”
Utah Phillips 1935-2008
May 15, 1965 A National Teach-in on the Vietnam War is held in Washington, with 3,000 participants, and with the discussions broadcast to over 100 campuses.
May 15, 1969 “People’s Park” in Berkeley is occupied by National Guard troops and police sent in by California Governor Ronald Reagan. The park was set up on April 20 when students and local residents took over a derelict lot owned by the University of California and started clearing away rubble, debris and abandoned cars in order to create a park. Local residents and businesses provided free food, and soon more than 1,000 people were taking part in creating and using the park. Governor Reagan, who calls the Berkeley campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters and sex deviants” sends in police to clear the park of people and seize the property. The police seal off an eight-block area around the park, put up chain-link fences to keep people out, and start uprooting trees and destroying what has been created. When protestors gather to protest the police actions, the police attack the crowd, after first removing their identification, and begin beating anyone they catch. Other police open fire with live ammunition. A bystander is killed, more than 100 are injured, many of them shot in the back. Afterwards Governor Reagan justifies his actions with the words “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”
May 15, 2011 Anti-austerity protests across Spain mark the beginning of the Movimiento 15-M, also known as the Indignados (Indignants Movement). The protests are aimed at draconian ‘reforms’ whose purpose is to force working people and the poor to pay for the international financial crisis caused by the banks and investment funds. The slogan of the protests is “we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers.” Some protestors occupy public squares in Madrid and Barcelona and other cities. By May 20, the encampments have grown to tens of thousands of people.The protest movement spreads to other forms of action. In July, an Indignant People’s March has columns of people from around the country walking towards Madrid. The movement continues.
May 15, 2012 Start of the Yo Soy 132 movement in Mexico. It originates in popular opposition to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the 2012 election and to the mainstream media’s blatantly biased coverage of the election. On May 11, students at Ibero-American University protest against Peña Nieto at a campaign event at the university. Media claims that the protesters were outsider agitators, not really students at all. In response, 131 students who had attended the event posted a video on YouTube showing their student IDs and expressing their disgust with the media. Other people spontaneously start tweeting their solidarity with the students, using the slogan “I’m the 132nd student.” The movement that springs up becomes known as “yo soy 132.” It goes on to organize massive protests throughout Mexico, and becomes a continuing social movement.
Yo Soy 132
May 16, 1912 Birth of Studs Terkel (1912-2008), radical author, broadcaster, actor, historian. Quote: “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
May 16, 1916 The U.S. invades and takes control of the Dominican Republic. The occupation continues until the end of 1924, when U.S. forces withdraw after installing a compliant government which signs a treaty giving the United States control of the country’s customs revenues.
May 16, 1934 Teamsters (truck drivers) in Minneapolis go on strike and shut down nearly all commercial transport. The only exception are farmers, who are permitted to come in on their own trucks and deliver directly to grocers, but not to the warehouse district. Violence breaks out on May 19 when police and so-called ‘deputies’ (thugs hired by the companies) attack strikers. On May 22, an all-out battle starts when police and private deputies try to break the picket lines. Police and deputies are forced to retreat; two deputies are killed. On May 25, employers and the union reach an agreement that provides for union recognition, reinstatement for all strikers, seniority and a no-discrimination clause. The agreement lasts less than two months: on July 17, employers announce that they going to renege on the agreement. The strike resumes. On July 20, police open fire on strikers with shotguns, killing two and injuring sixty-seven. A public commission, set up later by the governor, finds that “Police took direct aim at the pickets and fired to kill. Physical safety of the police was at no time endangered. No weapons were in possession of the pickets.” In August, a federal mediator brings about a new agreement, which includes union recognition and acceptance of the union’s major demands.In the aftermath, thousands of workers in other industries in Minneapolis unionize.
May 16, 1950 Workers in Nairobi go on a general strike. The strikes paralyzes the city and spreads to other cities in Kenya. The British colonial authoritities respond by imprisoning hundreds of workers.
May 16, 1954 After the murder of a number of prisoners by guard, prisoners in the Soviet prison labour camp at Kengir rebel and take control of the camp compound, forcing all guards to leave. Political prisoners and criminals at the camp join together in a common effort and elect their own government. During the time they control the gulag, they produce art, poetry, songs, and political propaganda. After 40 days, the revolt is crushed by the military; several hundred prisoners are killed. A song written during the rebellion: We will not, we will not be slaves We will not, we will not carry the yoke any longer.
May 16, 1966 The Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, taking its lead from Mao Zedong, announces the launch of a “Great Cultural Revolution.” The Politburo documents claim that counter-revolutionary revisionist elements have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture and education. A number of senior party leaders are dismissed. Mao’s goal is to shake up the party and purge the political rivals who challenged his pre-eminent position in the party after the disastrous failure of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” “Revisionism” is Mao’s word for the developments that took place in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin. Mao sees Stalin as a great leader whose legacy was undermined by those who took over after his death. Events in China move quickly, with mass rallies in support of Mao. Classes are cancelled throughout the country after a big-character poster endorsed by Mao claims that educational administrations have been infiltrated by revisionists. Soon the streets are filled with student “Red Guards” demonstrating in support of Mao and moving to find and purse “revisionists” in all areas of life. An enormous personality cult centered on Mao develops. In the resulting upheaval, left-wing oppositional currents who want to go beyond the top-down bureaucratic system favoured by all the competing factions in the Communist Party start to emerge and asset their views. Mao and his group, alarmed by the threat that events will spiral out of their control, gradually move to re-assert normal top-down bureaucratic rule.
May 17, 1954 The United States Supreme Court rules unanimously that segregation of Negro children in public schools is unconstitutional.
May 17, 1962 Thousands of American marines are sent to Thailand to ‘protect’ it against Communism.
May 17, 1968 In a protest against the U.S. war against Vietnam, nine Roman Catholic peace activists enter a draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, seize draft files, take them out to the parking lot, and set them on fire. The nine are charged with destroying government property, convicted, and sentenced to jail. The court rejects their arguments that they were obeying a higher moral law. One of the nine, Father Daniel Berrigan, writes a play about the trial afterwards called The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. The actions of the Nine inspire a considerable number of similar actions to destroy draft files.
May 18, 1781 Tupac Amaru II, the captured leader of an indigenous uprising against the Spanish in Peru, is tortured and executed. Before he is killed, the official representatives of Spanish civilization force him to watch the brutal execution of his wife, his son, and other relatives and friend. Tupac Amaru II becomes a legend and becomes the inspiration of other liberation movements in the following decades and centuries.
May 18, 1872 Birth of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), philosopher, mathematician, author, pacifist, socialist.
May 18, 1895 Birth of Augusto Cesar Sandino (1895-1934), Nicaraguan revolutionary, leader of a rebellion against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s.
May 18, 1992 A Toronto abortion clinic operated by Henry Morgentaler is firebombed by anti-abortion extremists.
May 19, 1842 Karl Marx writes the sixth of a series of articles on freedom of the press: among his earliest journalistic writings. Marx takes an uncompromising stand against censorship, and expresses his irritation with reformers who want freedom for the ‘responsible’ press but are willing to contenance censorship of ‘irresponsible’ writings: “Some want a full censorship, others a half censorship; some want three-eighths freedom of the press, others none at all. God save me from my friends!” In Marx’s view, “the absence of freedom of the press makes all other freedoms illusory... Whenever a particular freedom is put in question, freedom in general is put in question.”
Karl Marx: On Freedom of the Press (6: Freedom in General)
May 19, 1845 Two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, commanded by Sir John Franklin, set out from England in search of the Northwest Passage. None of the 129 men on the expedition will return home.
May 19, 1890 Birth of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese revolutionary.
May 19, 1895 The Cuban revolutionary poet Jose Marti is killed in an uprising against Spanish troops.
May 19, 1904 Birth of Daniel Guerin (1904-1988), French anarcho-communist.
Daniel Guerin: Fascism and Big Business (excerpt)s
May 19, 1910 U.S. forces occupy Nicaragua to ‘protect American interests.’
May 19, 1920 The Battle of Matewan, a shootout in the town of Matewan, West Virginia between striking miners and hired guns sent by the company to evict them from their homes. Ten men die. The incident and the events surrounding it are the subject of a film by John Sayles.
May 19, 1925 Birth of Malcolm X (Malcom Little) (1925-1965), African-American activist and speaker.
Malcolm X Speaks
May 19, 1952 Playwright Lillian Hellman refuses to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Quote: I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.
May 21 - 28, 1871
“Bloody Week” ends with defeat of Paris Commune. The Commune – the first working-class-led revolution to hold power anywhere in the world – began on March 18 when the citizens of Paris rose up to create a democratic commune in defiance of the national government, which had led the country to defeat in a stupid and unnecessary war with Prussia.
Manifesto of the Paris Commune
May 21, 1969 University student groups and secondary school students in Rosario, Argentina, along with the CGT labour federation, organize a silent march, which gathers 4,000 people. Police attack the march, and kill a 15-year-old student, Luis Blanco. The protest later becomes known as the first Rosariazo.
May 21, 1998 Mass protests force the Indonesian dictator Suharto to resign. His 31 years of power, with strong U.S. support, were been marked by the murder of an estimated one million Indonesians and the genocidal invasion and occupation of East Timor, as well as his embezzlement of between 15 and 30 billion dollars.
May 22, 1565 Start of the Dagami Revolt in the Philippines against Spanish colonial rule.
May 22, 1895 Railway union leader Eugene Debs is imprisoned for his role in the Pullman railway strike. In prison, he has time to read, and discovers the works of Karl Marx. He emerges from prison a radical socialist.
May 22, 1969 Ottawa announces that immigration officials will not ask immigration applicants' about their military status if they show up at the border seeking permanent residence in Canada. The change brings a flood of American draft resisters to Canada.
May 23, 1838 U.S. General Winfield Scott begins the forced removal of the Cherokee nation from their lands in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. As a first step, they are imprisoned in detention forts built to hold them; then the military starts them on their forced march west to Oklahoma. An estimated 4,000 Cherokee die en route. This is one of a long series of forced “Indian Removals” in the United States.
May 23, 1834 The start of the “Battle of Toledo,” a five-day running battle pitching striking workers in Toledo against police, national guard troops, and hired thugs. Workers at the Electric Auto-Lite company went on strike April 12 demanding recognition of their union, a wage increase, improved working conditions, and an end to harassment of, and discrimination against, union members. The strike draws support from the socialist American Workers Party (AWP), which sends organizers to help. The AWP sets out to organize unemployed workers in support of the strike; they succeed in bringing out thousands of jobless workers to help surround the plant and shut it down. The company appeals to the capitalist courts to prevent picketing, and are quickly granted an injunction forbidding more than a handful of pickets outside the gates. Despite continuing arrests, the workers defy the injunction: by May 23, there are more than 10,000 pickets outside the plant gates. Police attack, and a full-fledged battle breaks out that continues over the next five days. Two strikers are killed, and more than 200 are injured. The strike ends when the company, prodded by a federal mediator, agrees to recognize the union, grant a wage increase, and rehire all workers who had been fired for their actions during the strike. On June 9th, a massive victory parade in Toledo marks the end of the strike, which is regarded as one of the most important strikes in U.S. labour history.
May 24, 1743 Birth of Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), revolutionary and radical democrat. A physician and scientist, Marat throws himself into full-time political activity upon the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. He publishes his own paper, L’Ami du peuple (“The Friend of the People”) which advocates a consistently radical position. He is assassinated in 1793 by a royalist sympathizer.
May 24 - September 24, 1743 Beginning of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, an organized Irish attempt to drive out the British. The rebellion is planned and organized by the United Irishmen, a secular republican revolutionary group influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions. It has widespread support, but is opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, which actively sides with the British, who it regards as a lesser evil than secular republicanism.Local uprisings occur in a number of counties. The rebels win some victories, but gradually the British gain the upper hand. Wherever the British win, they engage in systematic atrocities, including torture of prisoners, burning prisoners alive, massacres and widespread incidents of rape. On August 22, after the main uprisings have already been defeated, France sends 1,000 troops to assist a rebel force of 5,000. They have some initial success, but are ultimately defeated by the British. The captured French soldiers are sent back to France; the Irish rebels are massacred. Some rebel guerrilla forces continue to harass the British for a number of years afterwards, until 1804.
May 24, 1917 An anti-conscription parade is held in Montreal, protesting against the imposition of conscription to supply men to serve in the Great War.
May 25, 1521 The Edict of Worms bans the writings of Martin Luther and labels him a heretic and an enemy of the state.
May 25, 1895 Birth of Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), American photographer. Lange is best known for her photographs documenting the effects of the Depression and poverty on displaced farm families, sharecroppers, and migrant labourers. Her photographs are widely published in newspapers, and help to prod the government to act to prevent outright starvation. In 1941, she documents the forced evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans. Her photographs are considered so dangerous that the Army seizes them to prevent them from being published.
May 26, 1932 Members of the ‘Ginger Group’ of Members of Parliament and members of the League for Social Reconstruction meet in Calgary and decide to form a new left-wing political party. The temporary name adopted for the new party is the “Commonwealth Party”, later changed to “Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labour-Socialist).” J.S. Woodsworth is selected as party leader. The party wins seven seats in the 1935 federal election. In 1944, it wins the Saskatchewan provincial election under leader T.C. Douglas and becomes to first social-democratic party to take office in North America.
May 26, 2010 Bradley Manning is arrested for allegedly leaking evidence of U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks. He is charged with espionage and “aiding the enemy”, and subjected to abuse and torture while in prison awaiting trial. No action is taken against those responsible for committing the war crimes.
Seeds of Fire is compiled for Connexions by Ulli Diemer. References used include the Connexions Library generally, and Connexipedia specifically, Wikipedia, Sources, the Peace History feature on Peacebuttons.info, the books and articles of Noam Chomsky (a marvellous antidote to historical amnesia), and a wide, wide variety of other sources.
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