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8 Strikes that Turned Ugly (or Inspired Keanu Reeves Movies)

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As we head into Labor Day Weekend, we thought it would be fitting to revisit some notable strikes in American history—from the railroad industry to the Post Office, Disney to the NFL.

1. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877

After the Panic of 1873, a country-wide depression, things in America kind of went downhill for a couple of years. By 1877, more than a quarter of all workers were laid off and those who had jobs suffered severe wage cuts. Railroads were no different. Strikes began in Pennsylvania, soon followed by Virginia, where federal troops were deployed to get transportation going again. Fed up with the state of the country's economics, workers across the nation protested the way strikers were being treated. From Maryland to St. Louis, militia was called in to try to control the crowds. Unfortunately this only made the situation worse "“ more than 100 people were killed. Overall, about 100,000 workers went on strike.

2. The Haymarket Riots of 1886

haymarket.jpgThose of us who enjoy the eight-hour workday may have unionists involved in the May 1, 1886, Haymarket Square Rally to thank. Although several strikes for the same cause came earlier, Chicago was the movement's heart. The "peaceful" part of a peaceful demonstration by 10,000 workers ended when the picket line was crossed. Unionists attacked the offenders and police opened fire, killing four demonstrators. That night, about 1,000 angry people gathered in Haymarket Square to express their outrage. At the end of the rally, a bomb exploded and killed one policeman immediately. Six others later died from injuries and sixty more were wounded. Police opened fire on the crowd, killing one and wounding many. Four people were hanged in connection to the bombing, although no evidence existed to prove them guilty.

3. Newsboys Strike of 1899

newsies.jpgWhat does Batman have to do with the Newsboys Strike? We'll get to that in a second. Newsboys were pretty low on the social totem pole in New York City at that time "“ many of them slept on the streets and were paid only 30 cents a day. They had to pay for the papers they sold out of those meager wages, so when William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer increased that price by 10 cents for every 100 newspapers, the newsboys called a strike. They brought traffic to a dead halt by demonstrating on the Brooklyn Bridge for days. The leader of the strike was a newsboy called Kid Blink, so called because of his poor vision in one eye. After two weeks of reduced circulation of their newspapers, Pulitzer and Hearst finally relented and bought back all of the papers the boys had refused to sell, plus paid the boys more money per paper sold.

This story of a band of scruffy kids triumphing over the publishing giants was made into a 1992 Disney musical called Newsies, starring a young Christian Bale"¦ also known as the latest reincarnation of Batman on the big screen.

4. The Southern Colorado Coal Strike of 1914

From 1913-1914, the United Mine Workers of America ordered a strike against Colorado coal mining companies (one of which was owned by the Rockefeller family). The reasons cited included that the companies were cheating workers out of wages and not following Colorado mining safety laws or eight-hour workday laws.

massacre.jpgBecause many miners lived in homes provided by the company, anyone who went on strike was immediately evicted. The union had foreseen this and leased land for evicted workers to live on, in tents. The tent villages were strategically placed near the coal camps so strikers could harass replacement workers. The mining companies hired a detective agency to protect the replacement workers. The "protection" consisted of agents firing random shots into tents, unprovoked, and patrolling the camp in an armored car with a machine gun mounted on it. To protect themselves, miners dug pits beneath their tents that they could crawl into when they needed better shelter.

On April 20, a fight broke out between the two parties and the tent village was set ablaze. Four women and 11 children had been hiding in a tent pit when the fires started. Two of the women and all of the children suffocated, leading the UMWA to call this incident "The Ludlow Massacre." Between the fire and the shootings, a total of 45 people died.

Ludlow is now a ghost town. A monument was erected in 1918 to recognize those who died for the cause.

5. The Disney Animators Strike of 1941

mickey.GIFWe all know the stories of things hidden in Disney cartoons "“ the dust cloud that spells out "Sex" in The Lion King, and Aladdin supposedly telling children to take off their clothes. But did you know that even Dumbo has controversy hidden within the animation?

There were some disgruntled animators at Disney after Snow White was released in 1937. Employees had put in a lot of uncompensated overtime in order to get the first feature-length animated film out and were not given the bonuses they were promised for doing so. In fact, many of them were laid off. One of the rounds of layoffs hit members of the Screen Cartoonists Guild quite hard. When Art Babbitt, an animator on the Three Little Pigs, Snow White and Fantasia was fired, it was the last straw. Employees went on strike for five weeks, which happened to be in the middle of the making of Dumbo. As a result, many of the strikers are featured in the cartoon as circus clowns needling for raises. The strike was eventually settled overwhelmingly in favor of the Guild.

6. The U.S. Postal Strike of 1970

postalstrike.jpgAs if Richard Nixon didn't have enough black marks on his tenure as President. In 1970, postal workers went on an illegal two-week strike because of low wages, bad working conditions and pathetic benefits.

In an attempt to stop the strike, Nixon went on national TV and ordered strikers back to work. Not only did this fail, it completely backfired: he angered workers in 671 other locations, convincing them to join the strike. In fact, government agencies not even involved with the Postal Service were angered enough by his television appearance to threaten to join the strike if Nixon pursued any legal action. Nixon ordered 24,000 military workers to replace the striking postal workers, but they weren't very helpful.

Negotiations were finally hammered out with the help of the Secretary of Labor. Unions got most of what they were asking for and also won the right to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions.

7. Air Traffic Controllers Strike of 1981

airtraffic.jpgWhat does an industry do when nearly three quarters of an essential part of its workforce goes on strike? That's exactly what happened on August 3, 1981, when about 13,000 air traffic controllers ceased work, demanding better benefits, more pay and fewer hours. President Reagan immediately held a press conference and said that if strikers didn't return to work in two days or less, they would be fired. He wasn't kidding. More than 11,000 of them were terminated and the rest of them went back to work.

Working against them was the fact that the FAA had a backup plan, which worked beautifully. Most flights continued with no interruption, thanks to non-striking employees and military controllers who pitched in to help. Even worse, the public sided with the government. The end result was that the FAA discovered that they could fully operate with one third less air traffic controllers, so the strike really achieved the exact opposite of what the strikers had intended. Oops.

8. NFL Strike of 1987

keanu.jpgAnother strike that worked against the strikers was the NFL walkout of 1987. Without much of a reason, players went on a 24-day strike when their old agreement expired. The owners refused to give in and continued scheduled games with replacement players. The owners actually made about $121,000 more per game because they could pay the replacements far less. The striking players, however, ended up personally losing about $15,000 per game "“ about $80 million overall. (Side note: Joe Montana crossed the picket line to play with the scabs.)

As in the case of the air traffic controllers, the public had little sympathy for the players or the union. Players were divided over whether to continue to strike or not and some of them returned to work. The owners stayed a united front "“ none of them entered separate negotiations.

replacements.jpgThe strike ended when the players caved and agreed to get back on the field on October 15. Even this was met with contention by the owners, who wanted the players to return on October 14 so they could play in that weekend's games. When the players didn't show up until the 15th, the owners refused to let them play that weekend. After lawsuits from both sides, things eventually settled down enough for games to continue with the original teams. Most replacement players never played pro football again.

One of the fun things that resulted from the strike was nicknames for teams with replacement players: The Los Angeles Shams, the San Francisco Phoney Niners, the Miami Dol-Finks and the Chicago Spare Bears, to name a few.

Of course there are countless more, including transportation strikes, teacher strikes, and strikes in all the other major sports. What do you think has had the most impact? Have you ever gone on strike, or crossed a picket line? How'd that work out for you?

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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