This Week in People’s History, Nov 21–27
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Striking airline machinists walking off the job

A 16-day Strike Pays Off in 1958 

65 YEARS AGO, on November 21, 1958, some seven thousand members of the International Association of Machinists struck Trans World Airlines in support of their demand for a substantial pay increase. When TWA planes in the air at  time had reached their destinations, the airline shut down until December 6, the day it agreed to raise the machinists' pay by 18 percent over the life of a 3-year contract.

Who's Been Releasing Greenhouse Gases?

TEN YEARS AGO, on November 22, 2013, the biweekly scientific journal Climate Change published Richard Heede's long, detailed, peer-reviewed study, "Tracing carbon and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854-2010." The study found that just 90 production entities -- the top five wee Chevron (headquartered in the U.S.), ExxonMobil (U.S.), Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), BP (UK) and Gazprom (Russian Federation) -- had been responsible for 63 percent of global greenhouse gas production during the 156 years ending in 2010. It also found that half of the emissions had occurred since 1986. Heede, the Director of the Climate Accountability Institute, concluded the article with this: "Energy companies have strong financial incentives to produce and market their booked reserves and oppose efforts to leave their valuable assets in the ground, but social and legal pressures may shift these incentives. Identifying who the major carbon producers are, and have been historically, may provide a useful basis for future social and legal pressure."

Keeping Combat Deaths Secret Until War's Over

105 YEARS AGO, on November 23, 1918, two weeks after the end of the World War, the U.S. Army revealed that for two years it had systematically lied in its official daily casualty lists, which newspapers had widely published on a regular basis. Whereas the daily casualty lists had reported a total of 84,348 U.S. casualties, the true number was now reported to be 236,117. The number reported killed in the daily lists was only three-fifths of the true number. Then on November 30, the Army Chief of Staff disclosed the actual number of casualties was even greater, 262,728. Of course, the Army did not admit to having ever lied; it simply released the true numbers and hoped that no one would take note of the discrepancies.

Gun Control, Anyone?

30 YEARS AGO, on November 24, 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was approved by the Senate. The law was signed by President Clinton on November 30. The Brady Act established the requirement that most (but not all) gun purchasers pass a background check before being allowed to purchase a weapon. In the years since background checks were required, they have blocked at least 1.2 million attempted firearms purchases. Sadly, the only substantial gun-control legislation that has been enacted since the Brady Act was the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which included a 10-year sunset provision, with the result the law was repealed, in effect, in 2004. During the 19 years since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, the annual number of firearms deaths in the U.S. has nearly doubled.

A Watered-Down Right-to-Know in 1983

40 YEARS AGO, on November 25, 1983, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a new and unusual regulation. Officially, the regulation's name was Hazard Communication Standard, but it was better known as the Right-to-Know Law. For the first time in its 13-year existence, OSHA was mandating that employers tell workers the names of hazardous chemicals present in the workplace and make it possible for the workers to obtain detailed information about the risk of exposure. It was a step in the right direction, but it did not go nearly far enough. The new regulation was a heavily watered-down version of a draft rule that had been written during Jimmy Carter's tenure as President, but which had not been finalized before Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. The Reagan administration scrapped the Carter draft, but it was under considerable pressure to issue some version of a Right-to-Know rule, no matter how feeble, which is exactly what happened.    

Sojourner Truth, Freedom's Fierce Advocate, Lays Down Her Sword

140 YEARS AGO, on November 26, 1883, Sojourner Truth, who had devoted much of her life to the movement to abolish slavery and to the movement to fully enfranchise women, died in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she had been living for 15 years. She was about 86 when she died (like the vast majority of enslaved and formerly enslaved people in the U.S., she did not know when she had been born, except that it was around 1797). No short summary of Sister Truth's long and eventful life can do her justice, so I'm not going to make the attempt.  Suffice to say, she was a hero to many participants in the movements for social reform that she championed.  When she died, Frederick Douglas published this about her: "Venerable for age, distinguished for insight into human nature, remarkable for independence and courageous self-assertion, devoted to the welfare of her race, she has been for the last forty years an object of respect and admiration to social reformers everywhere." For anyone whose curiosity is piqued, I recommend Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, by Nell Irvin Painter, published by W.W. Norton.

Instant Photography's an Instant Hit

75 YEARS AGO, on November 26, 1948, the first Polaroid Land camera went on sale for $89.75, the equivalent of $1,135 of today's dollars. It was the first instant camera using self-developing film to create a print shortly after taking the picture. Despite its high price, it sold out in minutes.…

Battle or Massacre?

155 YEARS AGO, at dawn on November 27, 1868, more than 550 mounted U.S. Army troops under the command of Lieut. Col. George Custer made a surprise attack on a village of some 250 members of the Southern Cheyenne Nation (100 of them women and children), which was on the bank of the Washita River, 140 miles west of Oklahoma City. Virtually all the Cheyenne were killed or taken prisoner (a handful managed to escape). Among the dead were the leaders of the group, Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman. Custer called the engagement the Battle of Washita; many others called it the Washita Massacre.

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