Friday, February 18, 2011

Wow! Talk about your Gilded Age

So the Wisconsin Governor is threatening to use the National Guard to break a strike by Wisconsin workers (link 1 of many).
This is a relic of the Gilded Age, when the money and power in the US were concentrated in the hands of the very very few.  A time before anti-trust and the basic human rights were given to workers.  (Of course, even then the trusts weren't considered "beings with full rights to donate politically and in secret" - but that's progress.
There is a long history of calling in the National Guard.  A long, ugly history that we thought was behind us.  Welcome to the new world - same as the old, only more cynical.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, governors often mobilized the National Guard during strikes.  Sometimes the Guard was genuinely neutral, assigned to buffer the dangerous zone between strikers and their employers. Other times, the Guard was explicitly charged with breaking the strike. During these instances, violence often erupted between strikers and soldiers with terrible, bloody results.
National Guard soldiers clashed with strikers in Buffalo, N.Y., Birmingham, Ala., Coeur d’Alene, Idaho,  Salt Lake City and Telluride, Colo., at the turn of the 20th century. In just two years, between 1911 and 1913, the militia was mobilized against coal miners in West Virginia, textile workers in Massachusetts, textile workers in New Jersey, and copper miners in Michigan. During an infamous bloodbath in 1914, soldiers killed striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colo., including at least six men, two women and 12 children.
During the 1934 Auto-Lite strike in Toledo (see picture above), a battle raged for five days between 6,000 strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard, leaving two strikers dead and more than 200 injured. Three years later, during the famous occupation of General Motors in Flint, Mich., the governor ordered thousands of soldiers to the factory, as the workers swore to resist them by force.
And in Wisconsin, Gov. Albert Schmedeman used the National Guard to disrupt a 1933 strike by dairy farmers, sometimes with bayonets and tear gas, when they tried to raise the price of milk. Newspapers reported that he was preparing for a "bona fide war." The Guard mobilized again the next year during a strike by the United Auto Workers. It was the last time the National Guard would be used during a strike in Wisconsin. Until, possibly, now.