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This Week in People’s History, Oct. 31-Nov.6

Strikers win big (in 1913). Strikebreaking's deadly cost (1918). No way to win an election (1968). Reign of terror in Georgia (1868). Better late than never (1988). FBI at its worst (1968). Public health catastrophe (1918).

A streetcar immobilized by striking workers

Indianapolis Streetcar Workers Strike to Win
October 31, 1913 (110 years ago). In Indianapolis, the Amalgamated Street Railway Employees of America strike the Indianapolis Traction & Terminal Company. After eight violent and chaotic days, during which, among other things, the police refuse to act against the strikers, the strike is settled when the company agrees to a wage increase and the installation of safety equipment. In addition the city government agrees to establish Indiana's first minimum wage law and to begin projects to improve conditions in the city's slums.

Strikebreaking's Deadly  Cost
November 1, 1918 (105 years ago). At least 93 Brooklyn commuters are killed by the owners and managers of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit company, who are so determined to break a strike by engineers that they put a totally inexperienced and untrained scab at the controls of a train crowded with homeward-bound passengers. The novice operator/strikebreaker takes a curve at 35 mph, which is 29 mph faster than the speed limit. The result is the deadliest rapid-transit wreck in U.S. history. The exact number of people killed (possibly as many as 102) is not known because the Transit Company and the police never make it clear. Not a single one of the powerful men who caused the wreck is ever punished or fined.

A Tricky Way to Win an Election
November 2, 1968 (55 years ago). Three days remain before U.S. voters would go to the polls to choose between presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. The War in Vietnam is a major concern of the electorate, and Humphey (who is Lyndon Johnson's Vice President) is handicapped by his connection with, and defense of, the war. Nixon claims to have a plan to end the war. On this day, Humphrey's election prospects are dramatically set back.

The source of Humphrey's latest problem is South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, who on this day torpedoes any hope for the ongoing Paris peace talks by suddenly declaring he would no longer participate in them. Thiệu did so at the very moment that it seemed the talks were poised to make progress, because the U.S. had just agreed to halt all air, naval and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam.

Thiệu had always been opposed to the talks, but for more than five months he had been an unwilling participant because his regime was completely dependent on the Johnson administration, which was desperate to get the electoral albatross of the war off its neck. 

Thiệu's new-found willingness to bite the hand that feeds him was inspired by a message he received from presidential candidate Nixon, who wanted Thiệu to stall the Paris talks until after the election and thereby reduce Humphrey's support among anti-war voters.

Nixon's bold stratagem, which would have been blatantly illegal if it had not remained secret until 2017, was successful, giving him the opportunity to continue the bloodletting in Vietnam until he was forced to resign in 1974.…

A Glimpse of the Effect of a Reign of Terror
November 3, 1868 (155 years ago). Ulysses S. Grant is elected President in the first post-Civil War election. The state-by-state election results provide insight into what had been going on in Dixie since the end of the war. 

After the formerly enslaved had been liberated in 1865, they naturally assumed the rights of citizens, including the right to vote as they chose. At first, the formerly enslaved faced many difficulties in exercising their rights, but the opposition they encountered was not monolithic or consistently deadly. 

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For example, in Georgia in the spring of 1868, large numbers of the formerly enslaved cast ballots in the gubernatorial election, with the result that an anti-racist candidate for governor won by a wide margin. 

Soon after that April election, a well-organized Ku Klux Klan-led reign of terror swept across Georgia, killing scores of the formerly enslaved. The attacks were so traumatizing that less than seven months later the vast majority of formerly enslaved people knew that casting a vote could cost them their lives, so they stayed away from the polls and Grant lost the vote in Georgia to a racist presidential candidate by a whopping 64-36 margin.

Better Late Than Never?
November 4, 1988 (35 years ago). Almost 40 years after the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the U.S. ratified it. It was the 98th UN member to do so.

The FBI at its Worst
November 5, 1968 (55 years ago). FBI headquarters circulates a 3-page memo to all FBI offices under the heading COINTELPRO -- DISRUPTION OF THE NEW LEFT. The memo (which is top secret at the time) orders all offices to carry out 12-point program: (1) anonymously prepare leaflets for college campuses attacking SDS and SDS leadership on each campus; (2) instigate or exploit personal conflicts among New Left; (3) create "impressions that certain New Left leaders are informants;" (4) distribute to "university officials, major donors, members of the legislature" and students' parents genuine news clips concerning drugs and sex from student and New Left newspapers "to show the depravity of New Left leaders and members;" (5) alert local law enforcement concerning any drug possession or use by leaders and members of the New Left; (6) send scurrilous anonymous letters concerning New Left activists to their parents, neighbors, and parents' employers; (7) send similar anonymous letters concerning pro-New Left faculty and grad students to university officials and the press; (8) encourage friendly media contacts to focus on the New Left's minority status on campus; (9) exploit hostility among SDS and other New Left groups; (10) call the attention of friendly media the existence of New Left coffee houses near military bases and calling local law enforcement's attention to related drug use; (11) createand circulateanonymous leaflets ridiculing the New Left; and (12) useevery opportunity to confuse and disrupt the New Left with anonymous misinformation

A Public Health Catastrophe
November 6, 1918 (105 years ago). The United States is in the grip of an unprecedented public health crisis caused by pandemic influenza. Six-year-old Mary McCarthy, who will grow up to be a renowned and influential novelist and political activist, arrives in Minneapolis by train, along with her parents and her three brothers, all of whom are under five. All six McCarthys have been infected with influenza during their journey from Seattle. The children's cases have been mild, but as soon as the train arrives, Mary's parents Roy and Martha McCarthy are rushed to the hospital, while Mary and her siblings are taken by their grandmother to her nearby home. Roy McCarthy dies in the hospital on November 6; a day later Martha succumbs. It is one of many similar catastrophes resulting from what remains one of the nation's most disruptive outbreaks of infectious disease.