This Week in History: August 29 to September 4

25 years ago: Death of Princess Diana

Flowers for Princess Diana’s funeral. Photo credit: Maxwell Hamilton; Wikipedia

On August 31, 1997, Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, died in a car accident in Paris with her companion Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul. The funeral, televised on September 6, had one of the highest viewership figures ever in the UK, with 32.1 million. The worldwide television audience was estimated at 1 billion. A million people traveled to London to attend the state funeral.

The fanfare at Diana’s funeral highlighted the constitutional crisis that had raged around the royal family for nearly two decades. Far from being an irrelevant medieval relic, the monarchy has been one of the main bastions of class rule in Britain. The ruling class had relied on the House of Windsor for two essential functions: ideologically, as a symbol of national unity and a center of patriotism; politically, as the last line of defense and source of authority for the capitalist state itself, especially in times of crisis.

Under conditions of social polarization and growing class tensions in Britain – the most economically unequal of the major capitalist countries after the United States – sections of the ruling class feared that the monarchy, and indeed the whole of the secular state structure, was becoming incapable of assuming its responsibilities.

They sought the transformation of the monarchy in the direction indicated by Diana’s own career – a Hollywoodization of the royal family, in which the popular masses were bombarded with images of glamorous celebrity comings and goings as an antidote to the difficulty growing in their own lives.

Diana’s death brought this process to a head. Unprecedented public pressure has been brought to bear on the royal family. There was open hostility in the press to Prince Charles, the heir to the throne whom Diana divorced in 1996, and even Queen Elizabeth II for their supposed insensitivity to Diana’s public mourning.

Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped in, both to extricate the royal family and nudge it in the desired direction. The capitalist press was explicit in acknowledging the whole episode as a victory for those seeking to reshape the monarchy along right-wing populist lines, which would cover New Labor’s policy of dismantling what remained of the welfare state. post-war. The restructuring of the monarchy was increasingly overtly linked to other changes in the structure of the state aimed at making it a more effective instrument of the ruling class.

Diana was not a great artist or scientist or a humanitarian or political leader. She was a multi-millionaire aristocrat who, in death more than in life, served British imperialism.

50 years ago: Hundreds of workers protest the murder of a union organizer

Norman Rayford

On August 30, 1972, more than 500 hospital workers marched to Philadelphia City Hall to protest the murder of Norman Rayford, an organizer for Local 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. Rayford was shot by a security guard two days earlier at the Metropolitan Hospital in Philadelphia, where he had supported a laundry strike.

Workers at Delaware Valley Hospital Laundry, a separate entity but owned by Metropolitan and four other major Philadelphia hospitals, were on strike to win their first contract and demanding $2.85 an hour. The hospitals had sent their laundry to New York to try to break the strike.

Meanwhile, a separate bargaining unit representing Metropolitan Hospital service workers had been fighting for union recognition for more than a year. Despite having certified Local 1199C as the bargaining agent, the service workers faced continued resistance from the hospital, which challenged the certification and hoped to smash the union campaign.

As the organizer of 1199C, Rayford was tasked with monitoring the laundry trucks to find out which service was being used as a scab. The hospital had secretly dispatched the trucks in the middle of the night to avoid sympathy strikes if other workers found their labor being used to break a strike. As Rayford and other union organizers watched the trucks, they were confronted by a hospital security guard. An altercation ensued and Rayford was shot. The guard claimed he acted in self-defense. However, he was unhurt and Rayford was unarmed. The police investigation consisted of questioning the guard and accepting his story as fact. The guard has not been arrested or charged with the murder.

When news of the murder spread, workers were outraged and called for mass action to protest Rayford’s murder. While only 50 workers were on strike at the laundry and 130 members of 1199C worked at Metropolitan Hospital, hundreds of hospital workers and supporters from other industries joined the march on City Hall.

The massive outrage has forced Metropolitan to make concessions, fearing the workers’ mobilization will grow rapidly beyond their current demand for union recognition. The day after the march on City Hall, the hospital agreed to recognize the union. In the contract eventually won by the workers, August 28 was stipulated as “Norman Rayford Day”, an additional paid holiday.

75 years ago: the fire of a cinema kills 87 in Paris

A victim of the fire from a contemporary newspaper clipping

On August 30, 1947, a cinema fire in the Rueil district of Paris killed 87 people and injured 60, some of them seriously. The blaze was the worst cinema fire since cinemas fully resumed following the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of France from fascist rule in 1944-45.

The crash happened on a Saturday evening as hundreds of people gathered to watch star without light, Edith Piaf’s third film, and her first since 1941. The film, despite its premiere a year earlier, still enjoyed great popularity. To capitalize, the unscrupulous owner of the Select theater had used makeshift seating to accommodate 800 patrons, despite the venue having a maximum capacity of less than 600 people.

During the film, a fire broke out, apparently where the projectionist was working. It would later emerge that he was an 18-year-old untrained replacement for the regular employee. Running out of the projection booth in a panic, he didn’t close the door, making sure the fire spread quickly.

Newspaper reports and a police investigation would reveal that the calamity was caused by gross negligence. The theater was cluttered with dusty furniture, making escape difficult and fueling the fire. There was also exposed wiring. The only fire extinguisher on site was not working and the owner had waived the minimal cost of hiring a fire marshal for the occasion.

It also emerged that the theater had been the subject of a series of security warnings in previous years, including from municipal authorities. Lengthy criminal and civil proceedings followed, with victims and their families seeking redress.

Media coverage described the disaster as the worst movie theater fire in 50 years, although there have been similar incidents with casualties in the interim. In 1897, a first film exhibition at the Bazar de la Charité, an annual charity event organized by the Parisian Catholic aristocracy, caught fire. In the hell that followed, 127 died.

100 years ago: Turkey defeats Greece in the decisive battle of Dumlupınar

Classified map illustrating the imperialist plan to divide Anatolia and the Middle East between Britain, France, Italy and Tsarist Russia

Between August 26 and 30, the Turkish army routed the Greek forces in the Battle of Dumlupınar. The Turkish victory, which resulted in tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, sounded the death knell for the Greek occupation of Anatolia, which was part of the imperialist carving up of the Middle East by the Allies of the First World War.

The Turkish army launched the Battle of Dumlupınar on the night of August 25 on the morning of August 26. The ensuing fighting, which involved around 100,000 troops on each side, was actually a series of engagements along a long line of Greek defensive positions. in western Anatolia.

The Greek army, hampered by poor communication and low morale, fought unevenly, but on 30 August gave way and was sent back fleeing to coastal positions. About 25,000 were killed, wounded, missing or captured on both sides.

On September 12, Greek forces abandoned the coastal city of Izmir on the Aegean Sea, and on September 18 they left Anatolia. On September 24, the Greek Revolution, a revolt by anti-government officers, overthrew the Greek monarchy. The fighting in the Greco-Turkish War, which began with the Greek invasion of May 1919, has come to an end. The victory of the Turkish National Movement, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was finally ratified by the imperialist powers in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

The Greco-Turkish War was, from the start, the result of imperialist machinations during World War I, just like the other catastrophes that have haunted the Balkans, Anatolia and the Middle East since then.

In a series of secret agreements, published later by Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, the great powers had agreed to divide Anatolia between them. Greece, little more than a British proxy, was drawn into the war against the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Allies with the promise of a new Aegean Empire. Armenian nationalists, also proxies for the Allies, were promised a state in eastern Anatolia. Italy was bribed to join the war with promises from southwestern Anatolia. And Tsarist Russia, at the beginning of the war, had been assured of the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles and with them Istanbul.

Britain and France shared the Ottoman lands which currently include Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Kuwait. The rump of the dissolving Ottoman Empire acquiesced to these plots in the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.

The Turkish nationalist movement of Atatürk and his victories over the imperialist occupiers and Greece upset these calculations. But Turkish nationalism provided no solution to the fundamental problem of unifying the oppressed, multi-ethnic and multi-religious masses of the wider region, instead leading to disasters and crimes such as the Armenian Genocide.