Seeds of Fire: A People’s Chronology

Recalling events that happened on this day in history.
Memories of struggle, resistance and persistence.

Compiled by Ulli Diemer

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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 an 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.
Related Topics: Mutinies
May 12, 1870
Mother’s Day: In 1870, Julia Ward Howe issues a call for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She proposes the establishment of a “Mother#s Day for Peace.”
Eventually in the early 1900s, “Mother’s Day” becomes a holiday in the United States, but quickly becomes commercialized, with little or no recognition of its origins.

“From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.”
Related Topics: Mothers
May 12, 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.
Related Topics: ExecutionIrish HistoryRebellions
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.
Related Topics: Police ViolenceStrikes

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