John’s Believe It Or Not… August 14th

In 1943 – Mackenzie King opens Québec Conference attended by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. In 2003 Blackout hits Northeast United States. In 1980 17000 workers go on strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk marking the beginning of the Solidarity movement. In 1935 FDR signs Social Security Act. In 1985 Michael Jackson takes control of the Beatles’ publishing rights.

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John Fioravanti standing in fron of his classroom blackboard.

Oh-Oh! It’s Monday! Did you know…

* 1943 – Mackenzie King opens Québec Conference attended by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

The First Quebec Conference (codenamed “QUADRANT”) was a highly secret military conference held during World War II between the British, Canadian and United States governments. The conference was held in Quebec City, August 17, 1943 – August 24, 1943. It took place at the Citadelle and at the Château Frontenac. The chief representatives were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, hosted by the Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Although Churchill suggested that Mackenzie King be involved in all discussions, Roosevelt vetoed the idea. As a result, Mackenzie King’s hospitality was almost purely for ceremonial purposes. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, had been invited to join the conference, but he did not attend for military reasons.

The Allies agreed to begin discussions for the planning of the invasion of France, codenamed Operation Overlord, in a secret report by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It was agreed that Overlord would commence on May 1, 1944, but this was subsequently disregarded and a later date was finalized. However, Overlord was not the only option; for example, Operation Jupiter remained a strong possibility had the Germans proved too powerful on the French coast. In the Mediterranean (a theatre on which Churchill was very keen) they resolved to concentrate more force to remove Italy from the alliance of Axis powers and to occupy it along with Corsica. Churchill and Roosevelt made it clear that they would only accept unconditional surrender from Italy, with there to be a complete and immediate cessation of fighting. News came through of the fall of Sicily to Allied forces, an invasion that had taken just 38 days. It was then decided that an invasion of Italy would begin on September 3, 1943. However, an armistice was signed that same day, which officially put Italy out of the war.

There were discussions about improving the coordination of efforts by the Americans, British, and Canadians to develop an atomic bomb. Churchill and Roosevelt, without Canadian input, signed the Quebec Agreement, stating that the nuclear technology would never be used against one another, that they would not use it against third parties without the consent of one another, but also that Tube Alloys would not be discussed with third parties. Canada, although not being represented at the particular meeting, played a key role in this agreement as she was a major source of uranium and heavy water, both essential in the atomic bomb.

The Quebec Conference, Canada, August 1943: Front: Roosevelt, Eisenhower Back: Mackenzie King, Churchill
The Quebec Conference, Canada, August 1943: Front: Roosevelt, Eisenhower Back: Mackenzie King, Churchill (Wikimedia Commons)

* 2003 Blackout hits Northeast United States.

On this day in 2003, a major outage knocked out power across the eastern United States and parts of Canada. Beginning at 4:10 p.m. ET, 21 power plants shut down in just three minutes. Fifty million people were affected, including residents of New York, Cleveland, and Detroit, as well as Toronto and Ottawa, Canada. Although power companies were able to resume some service in as little as two hours, power remained off in other places for more than a day. The outage stopped trains and elevators and disrupted everything from cellular telephone service to operations at hospitals to traffic at airports. In New York City, it took more than two hours for passengers to be evacuated from stalled subway trains. Small business owners were affected when they lost expensive refrigerated stock. The loss of use of electric water pumps interrupted water service in many areas. There were even some reports of people being stranded mid-ride on amusement park roller coasters. At the New York Stock Exchange and bond market, though, trading was able to continue thanks to backup generators.

Authorities soon calmed the fears of jittery Americans that terrorists may have been responsible for the blackout, but they were initially unable to determine the cause of the massive outage. American and Canadian representatives pointed figures at each other, while politicians took the opportunity to point out major flaws in the region’s outdated power grid. Finally, an investigation by a joint U.S.-Canada task force traced the problem back to an Ohio company, FirstEnergy Corporation. When the company’s Eastlake plant shut down unexpectedly after overgrown trees came into contact with a power line, it triggered a series of problems that led to a chain reaction of outages. FirstEnergy was criticized for poor line maintenance, and more importantly, for failing to notice and address the problem in a timely manner–before it affected other areas.

Despite concerns, there were very few reports of looting or other blackout-inspired crime. In New York City, the police department, out in full force, actually recorded about 100 fewer arrests than average. In some places, citizens even took it upon themselves to mitigate the effects of the outage, by assisting elderly neighbors or helping to direct traffic in the absence of working traffic lights.

In New York City alone, the estimated cost of the blackout was more than $500 million.

People try to board the back of a crowded New York City bus during the blackout
People try to board the back of a crowded New York City bus during the blackout (NPR)

* 1980 17000 workers go on strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk marking the beginning of the Solidarity movement.

The Soviet forces that liberated Poland from the Nazis at the end of World War II have installed a client communist regime, under which workers cannot organize or represent themselves before the state-owned enterprises that employ them. By the 1970s frustration with 30 years of one-party rule begins to surface, as workers all over Poland twice protest price increases. The regime responds with only temporary concessions that are quickly followed by renewed repression.

By the late 1970s, the Polish economy is on the brink of collapse. Prime Minister Edward Gierek eases press constraints and opens a dialogue with the Catholic Church. A visit by Pope John Paul II in 1979 – highlighted by an outdoor mass for three million people – draws Poles together on a scale far larger than anything workers and dissidents had dreamed of. In July 1980, when the government more than doubles meat prices, a series of nationwide strikes ensues. Workers realize that they can escape reprisals by taking their own shipyards and factories hostage.

In August 1980 workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk decide to strike, to protest food price increases. For years many workers have wanted the right to organize their own free trade unions, separate from the Communist Party that runs the country. Now they make that goal their number one demand.

Led by Lech Walesa and other veterans of earlier workers’ protests, the strikers decide to occupy the shipyard instead of marching into the city and inviting a confrontation with troops. Spreading news of their action to other enterprises on the Baltic coast, they organize an inter-factory committee to negotiate with party leaders and demand that the talks be broadcast on television. Eventually, the regime grants most of their demands, and a new independent organization, Solidarity, is born.

After the regime imposes martial law, Solidarity goes underground – but eventually, it is legalized and invited to negotiate the basis for free elections, which it wins.

Lech Walesa speaks to striking shipyard workers.
Lech Walesa speaks to striking shipyard workers. (CNN.com)

* 1935 FDR signs Social Security Act.

On this day in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the Social Security Act. Press photographers snapped pictures as FDR, flanked by ranking members of Congress, signed into law the historic act, which guaranteed an income for the unemployed and retirees. FDR commended Congress for what he considered to be a “patriotic” act.

Roosevelt had taken the helm of the country in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, the nation’s worst economic crisis. The Social Security Act (SSA) was in keeping with his other “New Deal” programs, including the establishment of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, which attempted to hoist America out of the Great Depression by putting Americans back to work.

In his public statement that day, FDR expressed concern for “young people [who] have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age” as well as those who had employment but no job security. Although he acknowledged that “we can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life,” he hoped the act would prevent senior citizens from ending up impoverished.

Although it was initially created to combat unemployment, Social Security now functions primarily as a safety net for retirees and the disabled and provides death benefits to taxpayer dependents. The Social Security system has remained relatively unchanged since 1935.

Today in history, 1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law.
Today in history, 1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law. (Pinterest)

* 1985 Michael Jackson takes control of the Beatles’ publishing rights.

It was during their collaboration on 1983’s “Say Say Say” that former Beatle Paul McCartney is said to have advised King of Pop Michael Jackson to invest some of his enormous wealth in music publishing. It was sound financial advice that McCartney may have come to regret giving on this day in 1985, when Michael Jackson purchased the publishing rights to the vast majority of the Beatles’ catalog for $47 million, outbidding McCartney himself.

To understand the sound business reasoning behind Jackson’s move to take control of the publishing rights to some 251 Beatles’ compositions, one must first understand some basic music-industry economics: Every time a copyrighted recording is exploited for commercial purposes—played on the radio, for instance, or used in a movie or television commercial—the party that uses that recording is required to pay a licensing fee. A portion of that fee will be paid out to the record label that issued the recording, and the record label, in turn, will pay a portion of its share to the performer. Separately, a portion of the licensing fee is due to the writer of the song in question. Songwriters—even those who are also performers—tend to enter into agreements with professional music-publishing companies to manage the collection of their songwriting royalties. In a typical arrangement, a publisher might take 50 percent of a songwriter’s royalties in exchange for handling collections and for actively promoting the commercial use of his songs.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Beatles’ primary songwriters, did something slightly more complicated. The publishing agreement they signed was with a company of which they were also part owners. That company, called Northern Songs, Ltd., was formed in 1964 expressly to generate revenues from the growing catalog of Lennon-McCartney compositions. In this way, every sale or other commercial use of the song “Yesterday” earned Lennon and McCartney a songwriting royalty that they split with Northern Songs. And part of Northern Songs’ share would then come back to Lennon and McCartney as part owners of the company.

In 1969, the British company Associated TeleVision completed a messy and contentious takeover of Northern Songs, which in turn led Lennon and McCartney to pull out of their contract for future compositions and to sell off their own shares in the company. More than 15 years later, in 1985, as ATV prepared to sell its entire publishing catalog, Paul McCartney anticipated purchasing it himself, only to be thwarted by Michael Jackson, who was then at the peak of his financial power.

In the years afterward, that catalog—now estimated to be worth in excess of $1 billion—allowed Jackson to remain solvent by serving as collateral for several enormous personal loans that funded his extravagant lifestyle through years of low earnings and legal difficulties. In 2008, however, Jackson gave up his remaining interest in the catalog to Sony, one of his primary creditors.

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson together in 1980
Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson together in 1980 (Billboard)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* Wikipedia                                                           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec_Conference,_1943

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport                         http://www.onthisday.com/

* A Force More Powerful                                              http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/films/afmp/stories/poland.php

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

10 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… August 14th”

  1. I didn’t realize MJ had financial troubles.. I’m glad he had the Beatles collection to help keep him afloat in lean times.. I still remember my dad being in amazement about MJ’s purchase of the rights over their music as we hadn’t realized Jackson was such a fan. Your research is excellent as always, John

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  2. The conference photo in Quebec has Eisenhower labeled but not present. I remember the blackout. The Solidarity movement has some brave participants. Thank you, FDR for the Social Security Act. Michael Jackson had some smart advisors. Good post, John

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating, John. I was unaware of the Quebec agreement, and I’m heartened to know that it is in place. The Solidarity movement was stunning for its courage and determination. As for the Blackout, I think it is a warning of what could be – through carelessness or worse. Thank goodness for the Social Security Act…and an unfortunate turn of events for the Beatles. Great stories today, John. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would there have been a Social Security Act passed today? Yes, the blackout was scary – we were affected here too – we do rely quite heavily on electricity! Thanks for your kind words, Gwen!

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  4. That social security act was tremendous – a civilised response by FDR. I remember reading accounts of people’s stories from the time of the Jarrow march in England. The deprivation and starvation of those put out of work was appalling.
    The Solidarity movement changed the world even if Lech Walesa was either a reluctant hero or an opportunist.
    The Beatles were wrong-footed and fuming that they didn’t get the rights to their own material.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I deliberately selected the Social Security story as a contrast to the current US Administration’s attempt to repeal Obamacare. That was too bad about McCartney losing the rights to the music he helped to create. Thanks for commenting, Opher!

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