Unions and Violence

 	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.