DO STRIKES LEAD TO VIOLENCE? ...YES, BY EMPLOYERS AND THE GOVERNMENT A standard attack on unions is that the government needs to repress unions because workers have a history of violence in strikes. The historical record shows that the violence, and especially murder, has come overwhelmingly from the other direction, through government police, labor spies, security guards, and Pinkerton forces employed to break strikes. One of the first great strike waves of this country occured on the railways in 1877; in that strike, US federal troops repeatedly opened fire of strikers battling with the monopolistic railways, killing twelve people in Baltimore, killing twenty-five in Pittsburg, and using troops throughout the country to break the strike. Local police in Pittsburg had actually supported the strikers because public opinion so supported the strike, but President Hayes made sure federal troops were used to defend the railroad monopolies. In July of 1892, Carnegie Steel declared war on the Amalgamated union of iron, steel and tin workers as they went on strike. A private Pinkerton army marched against the union's position armed with Winchester rifles--seven strikers died and three Pinkertons died from return fire. Under this attack, the union was broken and teh steel industry would not be under union contract again until 1937, forty-five years later. In coming years, strike after strike would be broken at the hands of state militias: switchmen in Buffalo, coal miners in Tennessee. In 1894, Eugene Debs and the American Railway Union led a strike after the arbitrary firings of Pullman Car workers; the strike escalated nationwide. Despite protests from the Governor of Illinois who noted there was no coercion or violence by the strikers, President Grover Cleveland, sent in four companies of the 15th Infantry to crush the strike. Injunctions were ordered and 200 strike leaders were arrested and th strike was broken. Eugene Debs would be imprisoned under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and went to jail and his union was crushed. In 1898, 1200 western miners on strike were imprisoned without charge to break a strike in Idaho. To note the repression by the government in other ways, note that in 1902, the United Hatters union announced a national boycott against a hatter's company in Connecticut. THe company sued the hatter's union under the Sherman Act and the courts upheld damages against the union that led to union members having home foreclosures against their homes and the bankrupting of union coffers. Other boycotts were matched by a conviction of two years prison for the head of the American Federation of Labor (although he eventually had the conviction dropped). Unions found that if they struck, the government would issue an injunction and jailed; if they called for a boycott, they'd be bankrupted by the courts or threatened with imprisonment. At the same time, attempts by unions to use legislation such as limits to the working day or minimum-wage laws were voided by the courts (until 1937 and the New Deal). Unions found that whether through the ballot, through a strike, or through speech and boycotts--the employers and government would attack them. In 1912, a massive strike in the wool mills of Lawrence, MA showed where employer violence overstepped its bounds and backfired. Despite the deployment of the militia and the arrest of strike leaders, the company could not break the strike. In order to survive economically, unionists planned to send their children to supporters in other states. The company and its supporters declared that no children would be allowed to leave the city. When the strike committee undertook to take the children to the railway station, the police and militia surrounded the station, the police closed in and began to beat mothers and children mericilessly. Despite the jailing of 296 strikers, public protest and continued resistance forced the company to raise wages although the union was never recognized. Possibly the most bloody attack on unionists was Ludlow, Colorado in 1913 where J.D. Rockefeller and his Colorado Fuel and Iron Company had state militia and hired special deputies attack and try to crush coal miners there. Conflict ranged for months until the militia opened machine-fire on a tent city of mineworkers family and then soaked tents in oil and put them to the torch. Women and children huddled in pits to escape the falmes; in one, eleven children and two women were found burned to death at the hands of the militia. Because more radical union leaders in the International Workers of the World (IWW) opposed World War I, several hundred of their leaders were arrested in 1917 solely for speaking out against the war. Eugene Debs, leader of the Pullman strike in 1894 and now leader of the Socialist Party, would spend the war years in jail (and poll a million votes for President from his jail cell). Others were forced to flee the country. In 1922, 400,000 railway workers went on strike and faced tough opposition. The federal government stepped in in September and issued an injunction that barred the following: not just picketing, but strike meetings, statements to the public, use of union funds for any strike activity, use of "letters, telegrams, telephones word of mouth" to pursuade anyone to strike. This helped set the stage for the general decline of unions in the 1920s where courts declared pro-worker legislation unconstitutional and most strikes illegal. Only with the New Deal did the government and business stop universal oppression and violence against striking unions. Part of this was the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act that banned use of the federal injunction against labor disputes (which would be repealed with the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947). It was in this period from 1932 to 1947, when the government stopped its coercive violence against unions that most unions had a chance to organize and gain their rights. With the reimposition of government injunctions with Taft-Hartley in 1947, new organizing became much harder where troops could be deployed to break a strike. One of the most violent strikes of the 1930s was the "Little Steel" strike of 1937 (after US Steel recongized the union) where the company organized attacks on picket lines, tear gassing union headquarters, the arrests of union leaders, and finally a bloody clash in South Chicago. There, the police opened fire on a holiday picnic of steel strikers and their families on Memorial Day, killing ten strikers. And while the federal government was not attacking strikers now, the Governor of Ohio deployed police to break the strike. It is worth noting the findings of the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee which released a report on corporate activies from 1933 to 1937. In the report, it was gound that 2500 companies had hired labor spies to spy in union meetings and even becoming union officials in order to undermine the organizations. Almost $10 million ($76 million in 1993 dollars) had been spent by companies in this period for spies, strike-breakers and munitions--GM alone had spent $830,000. In one strike, the so-called Little Steel strike, Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company had on hand eight machine guns, 369 rifles, 190 shotguns, 450 revolvers, and 109 gas guns. The Republic Steel Corporation had purchased $79,000 of tear and other gas weapons, making it a larger buyer of such weapons than law enforcement officials. With World War II and the post-war period, labor conflict has generally been quieter, both because of the continued use of labor injunction after Taft-Hartley and a slightly saner collective bargaining relationship. However, that relationship broke down in the 1980s with PATCO and a new anti-union drive by employers. On the net, a couple of people cited street fights in Las Vegas as evidence of representative union conflict. Aside from the fact that using Las Vegas as representative of anything is a bit laughable, let's put any street conflict in a bit of context (other than the general violence of the town). In 1984, there was a citywide strike of the casinos. The city passed an ordinance making picketing illegal and proceeded to arrest and jail 3000 strikers. Security guards in one televised incident beat the hell out of striking workers at the Hilton, an image that helped win the strike since people didn't want to vacation in hotels where security guards felt free to beat up non-violent strikers. Now, we have a strike at the Frontier Hotel that's been going on since 1989. If you point a camera on a street corner for four years, you are inevitably going to have a street scuffle at some point in time. If such actions were consistent day-after-day, you might have a case, but to cite one or two fights over four years of a strike and identify that as typical union actions is ridiculous. The point of all these posts is simple: violence in our society in union struggles has come overwhelmingly from employers and the goverment.