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Union violence

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Union violence

Union violence is violence committed by unions or union members during labor disputes. When union violence has occurred, it has frequently been in the context of

  • BBC report on arrests in the case of Chea Vichea
  • report on the murder of Keith FrogsonThe Independent

External links

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  9. ^ Mixer and server , Volume 12, Hotel and Restaurant Employee's International Alliance and Bartenders' International League of America., 1903, page 44
  10. ^ J. Bernard Hogg, "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, citing John Bascom, "Civil Law and Social Progress," The Independent, vol. xliv (September 15, 1892), p. 1279.
  11. ^ J. Bernard Hogg, "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, citing the advisory committee of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers during the Homestead Strike
  12. ^ "'"Miner 'killed during strike row. BBC News. 2004-08-03. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  13. ^ Harry Spiller, Sheriff: a memoir of a lawman from Bloody Williamson County, Illinois, Turner Publishing Company, 1999, page 11
  14. ^ a b J. Bernard Hogg, "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199
  15. ^ a b Scharf, J. Thomas (1967) [1879]. "History of Maryland From the Earliest Period to the Present Day" 3. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press. pp. 733–42. 
  16. ^ Zinn, Howard (1995). A People's History of the United States 1492-present. New York: Harper Collins. p. 248.  
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  27. ^ Mark Wyman, Hard Rock Epic, Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution, 1860-1910, 1979, page 170.
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  29. ^ Alexander Berkman, Prison memoirs of an anarchist, Mother earth publishing association, 1912, pages 1-2
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  31. ^ J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, page 111
  32. ^ schwantes, carlos (1996). ""The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive history"". University of Nebraska Press. p.320
  33. ^ J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, page 112.
  34. ^ Roughneck—The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, pages 53-54.
  35. ^ J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, pages 113-114.
  36. ^ J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, page 114.
  37. ^ William D. Haywood, The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood, 1929, page 81.
  38. ^ All That Glitters—Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek, Elizabeth Jameson, 1998, page 233
  39. ^ The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District, Benjamin McKie Rastall, 1905, pages 150,153
  40. ^ Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, George G. Suggs, Jr., 1972, pages 114,189
  41. ^ a b c d Louis Freeland Post, The Public, November 5, 1904, page 487
  42. ^ Durango Democrat, "Startling Exposure, Member of State Militia Makes Affidavit As To Cause Of Disturbances in Cripple Creek", October 29, 1904
  43. ^ George D. Torok, A guide to historic coal towns of the Big Sandy River Valley, Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2004, page 119
  44. ^ a b Chuck Kinder, Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk, Da Capo Press, 2005, page 149
  45. ^ a b Harry Spiller, Sheriff: a memoir of a lawman from Bloody Williamson County, Illinois, Turner Publishing Company, 1999, page 10
  46. ^ Stu Fliege, Tales and trails of Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 2002, page 180
  47. ^ a b James Ballowe, The Work of Our Fathers, retrieved April 22, 2011
  48. ^ Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide, US History Publishers, A.C. McClurg & Company, Chicago, 1939, page 453
  49. ^ "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," J. Bernard Hogg, Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, page 175, citing Journal of United Labor, July 12, 1888. Hogg block-quotation contains a typo, interpretation is assumed as a single quote rendered as a comma.
  50. ^ John J. Abt, Michael Myerson, Advocate and activist: memoirs of an American communist lawyer, University of Illinois Press, 1993, page 63
  51. ^ Harry Wellington Laidler, Boycotts and the labor struggle economic and legal aspects, John Lane company, 1913, pages 291-292
  52. ^ Debra Cassens Weiss, American Bar Association Journal, posted Mar 25, 2011, retrieved April 2, 2011
  53. ^ CBS News, posted March 25, 2011, retrieved April 2, 2011
  54. ^ Montopoli, Brian (March 25, 2011). "Indiana prosecutor resigns for encouraging fake attack on Wisconsin governor".  
  55. ^ The Westerners brand book, 1963, page 430
  56. ^ Peter Carlson, Roughneck—The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, 1983, pages 69-70
  57. ^ William D. Haywood, The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood, 1929, pages 142-143
  58. ^ Elizabeth Jameson, All That Glitters—Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek, 1998, pages 210-211.
  59. ^ George G. Suggs, Jr., Colorado's War on Militant Unionism, James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners, 1972, page 101
  60. ^ Benjamin McKie Rastall, The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District, 1905, page 105
  61. ^ Peter Carlson (1983). Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood. p. 163. 
  62. ^ Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones (1979), Theories of American Labour Violence, Journal of American Studies, 13, pp 245-264, doi:10.1017/S0021875800011439
  63. ^ Armand J. Thieblot, Jr. and Thomas R. Haggard, 1983, Union Violence: The Record and the Response by Courts, Legislatures and the NLRB, Industrial Research Unit, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
  64. ^ Brinker, Paul, Violence by U.S. labor unions, Journal of Labor Research, 1985-12-01, Volume 6, Number 4, p. 417-427
  65. ^ Closing the Legal Loophole for Union Violence: Hearing Before the Committee On the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Fifth Congress, First Session, On S. 230 ... September 3, 1997, Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1998.
  66. ^ Pinto, Susan; Wardlaw, Grant R. "Australian Institute of Criminology - Political violence". Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  67. ^ "VIDEO: Michigan union protesters tear down Americans for Prosperity tent". UPI. 
  68. ^ "Lansing business owner alleges racial abuse, loses equipment in Right to Work protests at state Capitol". 
  69. ^ "3 arrested as anger grows among protesters; pepper spray used outside Capitol". Detroit Free Press. 
  70. ^ "Michigan locals raise funds for 'hot dog guy' after union protesters destroy his supplies". Fox News. December 12, 2012. 
  71. ^ "12-12-12 Clint Tarver on The Dana Show". YouTube. 12 December 2012. 
  72. ^ "NEW VIDEO ADDED: Union Thugs Attack Steven Crowder". December 11, 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-03-31. 
  73. ^ Judge warns Wash. union to halt illegal tactics after 500 storm grain terminal, trap guards, Associated Press September 9, 2011
  74. ^ "Beaten UPS Driver Wins Teamsters Settlement - Los Angeles Times". 1997-08-02. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  75. ^ "Foundation Attorneys Sock Teamsters with Racketeering Suit". NRTW. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
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  79. ^ Fitzgerald, Randy, "Murder in Logan County", Reader's Digest, Feb. 1995
  80. ^ a b Kent Morlan. "Alaska Utility Construction Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1547". Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  81. ^ a b "Nos. S-8207, S-8247. - INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL 1547 v. ALASKA UTILITY CONSTRUCTION INC - AK Supreme Court". Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  82. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY | 16 | 1985: Miners jailed for pit strike murder". BBC News. May 16, 1985. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  83. ^ Tim Jones, "Miners get life for taxi murder", The Times, 17 May 1985
  84. ^
  85. ^ "GCSE Bitesize: Chronology of events - the basics". BBC. 1926-05-04. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 



See also

Management violence usually takes the form of bullying of or aggression against union organisers or sympathisers in the workplace. It is rarely if ever delivered by employers or senior managers directly, but by front-line managers (e.g. chargehands or foremen) or by other employees incited by management. In a number of well-known cases, however, violent action has been taken against union workers, often using hired goon squads, and unions have charged that this was at the instigation of management or of government bodies sympathetic to management's aims.

Management violence

Under the United States Supreme Court's 1973 Enmons decision (United States v. Enmons), the actions of union officials in organizing strikes and other united acts of workers are exempt from prosecution under US federal anti-extortion law. Similar legal protections are enjoyed by unions in other democratic countries. These protections do not however confer any immunity from prosecution for violent acts.

People who commit acts of violence in the furtherance of industrial disputes can be prosecuted under the normal laws of all countries. In several countries, however, unions have accused state prosecutors of taking either no or insufficient steps against the alleged perpetrators of violence against union leaders, leaving a significant majority of the crimes in partial or total impunity; at present such accusations are most often made in respect of Colombia, and in particular the case of the murder of Isidro Gil is currently (2004) being pursued in a court in Miami, Florida.

Legal status

  • 1986 - During protests by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547 against a non-unionized workforce getting a contract, picketers threatened and assaulted workers, spat at them, sabotaged equipment, and shot guns near workers.[80][81] In 1999, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the union had engaged in "ongoing acts of intimidation, violence, destruction of property", awarding the plaintiff $212,500 in punitive damages.[80][81]
  • 1986/1987 - three union workers set fire to the Hotel Dupont Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while other union members staged a fight as a distraction. The union, said to be affiliated with the Teamsters, was having a labor dispute with management over pay and health care. Ninety-seven people were killed, none of whom were union members. Most bodies were burned beyond recognition.
  • 1990 - on the first day of The New York Daily News strike, delivery trucks were attacked with stones and sticks, and in some cases burned, with the drivers beaten.[2][3][4] Strikers then started threatening newsstands with arson, or stole all copies of the Daily News and burned them in front of the newsstands.[2][3][4] James Hoge, publisher of the Daily News, alleged that there had been some 700 serious acts of violence. The New York Police Department claimed knowledge of 229 incidents of violence. Criminal charges under the Hobbs Act were declined, however, citing the aforementioned Enmons case.[2][3][4]
  • 1993 - Eddie York was murdered for crossing a United Mine Workers (UMW) picket line at a coal mine in Logan County, West Virginia, on July 22, 1993. Like the 1990 NY Daily News strike, criminal charges under the Hobbs Act were declined, with the FBI and Justice Department citing the Enmons case.[78][79]
  • 1997 - On August 7, 1997, teamsters Orestes Espinosa, Angel Mielgo, Werner Haechler, Benigno Rojas, and Adrian Paez beat, kicked, and stabbed a UPS worker (Rod Carter) who refused to strike, after Carter received a threatening phone call from the home of Anthony Cannestro, Sr., president of Teamsters Local 769.[74][75]
  • 2011 - It was reported on September 9, 2011 that members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) frightened security guards, dumped grain, and vandalized property belonging to EGT, LLC, over a labor dispute. No one was hurt, and no one had been arrested at the time the incident was reported. District Judge Ronald Leighton later issued a preliminary injunction against the ILWU citing their reported behavior.[73]
  • 2012 - Union workers protesting right-to-work legislation in Lansing, Michigan destroyed a tent run by Americans for Prosperity. People were inside the tent but managed to escape before the collapse. Additionally, hot dog stand operator Clinton Tarver, a popular vendor around the Capital area who was hired to provide catering for AFP, lost his equipment, condiments, coolers, and food in the collapse. According to Tarver (an African American), union workers, who had incorrectly assumed he was supporting AFP, called Tarver an "Uncle Tom nigger". A union worker also punched conservative comedian and Fox News contributor Stephen Crowder, resulting in a chipped tooth and a minor cut on the forehead. Another worker threatened to kill Crowder with a gun.[67][68][69][70][71][72]

Examples of union violence since 1925 include:


Researchers in industrial relations, criminology, and wider cultural studies have examined violence by workers or trade unions in the context of industrial disputes.[1][62][63][64] US and Australian government reports have examined violence during industrial disputes.[65][66]

Research on union violence

Frameups in labor disputes sometimes swing public opinion one way or the other. During a strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, police acting on a tip discovered dynamite and blamed it on the union. National media echoed an anti-union message. Later the police revealed that the dynamite had been wrapped in a magazine addressed to the son of the former mayor. The man had received an unexplained payment from the largest of the employers. Exposed, the plot swung public sympathy to the union.[61]

During the same strike, detectives attempted to frame union leaders for a plot to derail a train. A jury of non-union ranchers and timbermen unanimously found three accused union men "not guilty", and testimony during the trial pointed at a plot by the detectives.[56][57][58][59][60]

A variation of the false flag operation is the frameup, in which operatives attempt to accomplish the same negative reaction, but aim for specific consequences more significant or damaging than mere bad publicity. During the Colorado Labor Wars, the Colorado National Guard had been called into the Cripple Creek Mining District to put down a strike. The occupation had apparently dissipated perceived threats from striking miners against mine properties, and Colorado National Guard leadership became concerned that the Mine Owners Association had not lived up to their agreement to cover the payroll of the soldiers during the deployment. About the middle of February, 1904, General Reardon ordered Major Ellison to take another soldier he could trust to secretly "hold up or shoot the men coming off shift at the Vindicator mine" in order to convince the mine owners to pay.[41] When such violence occurred, it was most probable that the blame would be placed upon the union.[55] However, Major Ellison believed that the miners took a route out of the mine that would not make ambush possible. Reardon ordered Ellison to pursue an alternative plan, which was shooting up one of the mines. In the dark of night, Major Ellison and Sergeant Gordon Walter fired sixty shots from their revolvers into the Vindicator and Lillie shaft house.[41] The plan worked, and the mine owners paid up.[41]


While such practices may seem outdated, some apparently still subscribe to just such tactics. For example, Deputy Prosecutor in Indiana's Johnson County, Carlos Lam, suggested in an email that Wisconsin's Governor Walker should mount a "false flag" operation to undermine pro-union protesters involved in the 2011 Wisconsin protests, which would make it appear as if the union was committing violence. After initially claiming that his email account was hacked, Lam admitted to sending the suggestion and resigned.[52][53] Governor Walker's office disclaimed support for the proposal.[54]

"In [the event other methods of sabotaging the union fail, our operative in the union] turns extremely radical. He asks for unreasonable things and keeps the union embroiled in trouble. If a strike comes, he will be the loudest man in the bunch, and will counsel violence and get somebody in trouble. The result will be that the union will be broken up."[51]

Some labor spy agencies advertised their false flag operations; for example, Corporations Auxiliary Company, a labor spy agency which boasted 499 corporate clients in the early 1930s,[50] told prospective clients,

A detective will join the ranks of the strikers and at once become an ardent champion of their cause. He is next found committing an aggravated assault upon some man or woman who has remained at work, thereby bringing down upon the heads of the officers and members of the assembly or union directly interested, the condemnation of all honest people, and aiding very materially to demoralize the organization and break their ranks. He is always on hand in the strikers' meeting to introduce some extremely radical measure to burn the mill or wreck a train, and when the meeting has adjourned he is ever ready to furnish the Associated Press with a full account of the proposed action, and the country is told that a "prominent and highly respected member" of the strikers' organization has just revealed a most daring plot to destroy life and property, but dare not become known in connection with the exposure for fear of his life![49]

False flag operations are efforts to turn public opinion against an adversary, while pretending to be in the camp of that adversary. Historian J. Bernard Hogg, who studied agencies hired by companies to undermine unions, and who wrote "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," observed:

False flag operations

Williamson County, Illinois, a county with a "unique history of violence" for a rural county, was the location of the Herrin Massacre, one of the most horrific and perplexing incidents of union violence.[45] The 1922 incident is considered the most notorious of the United Mine Workers' struggles in Illinois.[46] Williamson was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity at the time, with many in the community embracing that organization in opposition to bootlegging of liquor during Prohibition, and for purposes of racial exclusion.[45][47] The massacre was committed by members (and possibly at the instruction of local leadership) of the United Mine Workers, just eight years after the deaths of miners' wives and children during the Ludlow Massacre.[47] Accounts differ, but most record the strike-related deaths of three union men, followed the next day by union miners committing the brutal murders of 20 men of a group of fifty strikebreakers and mine guards. The ruthless retaliation occurred against the backdrop of broken promises, double dealing, and missed opportunities on both sides.[48]

The Herrin Massacre, 1922

Two years of conflict between miners and mine owners, characterized by utilization of the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency for infiltrating, sabotaging and attacking the United Mine Workers union, culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.[43] The largest armed insurrection since the American Civil War was touched off by the murders of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers on the courthouse steps of Welch, West Virginia.[44] The Battle of Blair Mountain was a spontaneous uprising of ten thousand coal miners from throughout West Virginia who fought the coal company's hired guns and their allies, the state police for three days before federal troops intervened.[44]

Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921

Perhaps the most significant example of a campaign of union violence, the International Association of Bridge Structural Iron Workers employed dynamite attacks and assault from 1906 to 1911 over employers' demands for an open shop. After an initial peace offer, employers refused to talk to the union, and the union leadership adopted violent tactics as a direct response. Approximately one hundred structures were damaged or destroyed by dynamite, and about a hundred non-union workers were assaulted. The most notable incident was the Los Angeles Times bombing, which killed 21 newspaper workers and injured more than 100 more.[1]

International Association of Bridge Structural Iron Workers, 1906-1911

During the Western Federation of Miners strike of 1903-04, there was considerable violence, including an explosion at the Vindicator mine which killed two, and an explosion at the Independence Depot which killed thirteen. The Cripple Creek Mining District was under occupation by the Colorado National Guard, the Citizens' Alliance was active in the district, and historians continue to debate who was responsible for each incident of violence.[38][39][40] One likely perpetrator was convicted assassin Harry Orchard, who many historians believe may have been a double agent. A major in the National Guard later testified that the militia was responsible for orchestrated beatings of striking miners.[41][42]

Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-04

Once again, miners were rounded up and herded into bullpens and held there for months.[37]

From Kellog to Wallace, ranchers and laboring people lined the tracks and, according to one eyewitness, "cheered the [union] men lustily as they passed."[36]

On April 29, 250 angry union members belonging to the WFM seized a train in Burke.[32] At each stop through Burke-Canyon, more miners climbed aboard. At Frisco, the train stopped to load eighty wooden boxes, each containing fifty pounds of dynamite. Nearly a thousand men[33] rode the train to Wardner, the site of a $250,000 mill of the Bunker Hill mine. After carrying three thousand pounds of dynamite into the mill, they set their charges and scattered. Two men were killed,[34] one of them a non-union miner, the other a union man accidentally shot by other miners. Their mission accomplished, the miners once again boarded the "Dynamite Express" and left the scene.[35]

In April 1899, as the [31]

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899

The following year, however, another company, the Chicago-Virden Coal Company, attempted a similar strike-breaking effort, this time with an armed escort on the train car. The result was called the Battle of Virden. Guards fired their rifles as they disembarked from the train. In the ensuing gun battle, fourteen men, including eight strikers, were killed.[1] Governor Tanner criticized the company, and called up the National Guard, who were able to restore order. The National Guard prevented a similar incident by turning away additional strikebreakers the day after the riot.[1]

In 1897, the Pana Coal Company attempted to import African-American strikebreakers. A train car was intercepted by armed striking miners, and the strikebreakers were sent home unharmed.

Battle of Virden, 1898

During the Homestead strike, Carnegie Steel Company employees in Duquesne joined the strike that was occurring across the river. A riot broke out, and a number of the workers were arrested. It turned out that two of the strikers were Pinkerton detectives, and convictions were secured.[30]

Berkman's attack, called an attentat by the anarchists, injured but failed to kill Frick. Having anticipated that his act would launch a worker uprising, Berkman was surprised when a carpenter hit him with a hammer after he had been restrained. The attempted murder alienated the anarchist community from much of the labor movement, as well as dividing the anarchist community itself.[26] Frick had been widely hated, but in at least one analysis, becoming the victim of such an attack transformed him into a "folk hero" in the public view.[1]

...Henry Clay Frick, whose attitude toward labor is implacably hostile; his secret military preparations while designedly prolonging the peace negotiations with the Amalgamated; the fortification of the Homestead steel-works; the erection of a high board fence, capped by barbed wire and provided with loopholes for sharpshooters; the hiring of an army of Pinkerton thugs; the attempt to smuggle them, in the dead of night, into Homestead; and, finally, the terrible carnage.[29]

Berkman, an avowed anarchist, had no connection to the union involved in the strike, but believed he was acting in the workers' interests. He was motivated by newspaper reports of,

One of the most notorious incidents of violence against management occurred in 1892 during the Homestead Strike—one of the most violent industrial disputes in American history—when Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company and manager of the mill where the strike occurred. Frick had locked out the workers, and later hired three hundred armed guards from the Pinkerton Detective Agency to break the union's picket lines, resulting in gunfire and flaming barges on the Ohio River. There was a consensus of all parties that the presence of the Pinkertons inflamed the attitudes of the strikers.[1] The strikers defeated the Pinkertons, but could not keep the mills from operating after the National Guard was deployed.[1]

Homestead Strike, and an assassination attempt

The violence provided the mine owners and the governor with an excuse to declare Martial Law,[27] and bring in six companies of the Idaho National Guard to "suppress insurrection and violence." Federal troops also arrived, and they confined six hundred miners in bullpens without any hearings or formal charges. Some were later "sent up" for violating injunctions, others for obstructing the United States mail.[28]

On Sunday night, July 10, armed union miners gathered on the hills above the Frisco mine. More union miners were arriving from surrounding communities, and a showdown was inevitable. At five in the morning, shots rang out, and the firing became continuous. The miners claimed the guards fired first, the guards accused the miners. The union miners, exposed on the logged-off hillside, hadn't positioned themselves for a gunfight, while mine guards were able to shelter in buildings. The union men circled above the mill, and got into a position where they could send a box of black powder down the flume into one of the mine buildings. The building exploded, killing one company man and injuring several others. The union miners fired into a remaining structure where the guards had taken shelter. A second company man was killed, and sixty or so guards surrendered. Union men marched their prisoners to the union hall.

The strike of 1892 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho erupted in violence when a union miner was killed by mine guards,[1] and was further inflamed when union miners discovered they had been infiltrated by a Pinkerton agent who had routinely provided union information to the mine owners.

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor strike

1892 in particular was a year of considerable labor unrest. Governors of five states called out the national guard and/or the army to quell unrest—against miners in East Tennessee and in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, where a shooting war followed the discovery of a labor spy, against switchmen in Buffalo, New York, against a general strike in New Orleans, Louisiana, and against the Homestead, Pennsylvania steel strike.[26]

"In the 1890s violent outbreaks occurred in the North, South, and West, in small communities and metropolitan cities, testifying to the common attitudes of Americans in every part of the United States."[1] Workers with different ethnic origins who worked under very different conditions in widely separated parts of the United States nonetheless responded with equal ferocity when unions came under attack.[1] "Serious violence erupted in several major strikes of the 1890s, the question of union recognition being a factor in all of them."[1]

Labor unrest in 1892

[25] During

Burlington strike of 1888

Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld later pardoned the three living survivors of the Haymarket prosecution, concluding (as have subsequent scholars) that there had been a serious miscarriage of justice in their prosecutions.[23][24]

The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant for the origin of international May Day observances for workers.[20][21] The causes of the Haymarket Affair are still controversial, but can be traced in part to an incident the previous day, in which police fired into a crowd of agitated workers during shift change at the McCormick Works, where the regular work force was on strike, and at least two workers were killed.[22] In popular literature, the Haymarket Affair inspired the caricature of "a bomb-throwing anarchist."

In 1886 the Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was a protest rally and subsequent violence on May 4 at the Haymarket Square[17] in Chicago. The rally supported striking workers. When police began to disperse the public meeting, an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb into their midst. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers, mostly from friendly fire, and an unknown number of civilians.[18][19] In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were tried for murder. Four men were convicted and executed, and one committed suicide in prison, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

Haymarket affair of 1886

Chicago was paralyzed when angry mobs of unemployed citizens wreaked havoc in the rail yards. The strike was eventually suppressed by thousands of vigilantes, National Guard, and federal troops.

In Reading, Pennsylvania, workers conducted mass marches, blocked rail traffic, committed trainyard arson, and burned a bridge. The state militia shot sixteen citizens in the Reading Railroad Massacre. The militia responsible for the shootings was mobilized by Reading Railroad management, not by local public officials.[16]

Burning of Pennsylvania Railroad and Union Depot, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 21–22 July 1877

In Pittsburgh, strikers threw rocks at militiamen, who bayoneted their antagonists, killing twenty people and wounding twenty-nine others.

Violent street battles occurred in Maryland between the striking workers and the Maryland militia. When the outnumbered troops of the 6th Regiment fired on an attacking crowd, they killed 10 and wounded 25.[15] The rioters injured several members of the militia, damaged engines and train cars, and burned portions of the train station.[15] On July 21–22, the President sent federal troops and Marines to Baltimore to restore order.

The great railroad strike of 1877 saw considerable violence by, and against, workers, and occurred before unions were widespread. It started on July 14 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in response to the cutting of wages for the second time in a year by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O). Striking workers would not allow any of the stock to roll until this second wage cut was revoked. The governor sent in state militia units to restore train service, but the soldiers refused to use force against the strikers and the governor called for federal troops.

Sixth Regiment of the Maryland Militia fighting its way through Baltimore, Maryland, 20 July 1877

Great Railroad Strike of 1877

One of the historical problems in labor disputes was the inability of existing police forces to deploy enough trained personnel to perform necessary responsibilities.[13] Corporations frequently turned to private agencies and guard services to fulfill their security needs. In 1866, a Pennsylvania law gave corporations the privilege of securing from the state government a commission for a watchman or policeman, who had the power to act on the corporation's property. The entity thus established was commonly referred to as the Coal and Iron Police.[14] In 1894, United States Marshals and special guards, together with state and federal troops, assisted in putting down the Pullman Strike.[1] In 1902, during the Anthracite strike, hundreds of commissions for the Coal and Iron Police were issued.[1] But this is also when the concept of a state police force to deal with labor issues first saw fruition.[14] However, for more than a century governors have continued to call out the militia, or the National Guard to deal with labor unrest. The army has also been used during labor disputes, including in situations where use of the National Guard proved inadequate (or disastrous, as in the Ludlow Strike).


A 1969 study of labor conflict violence in the United States examined the era following the 1947 passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, and concluded that violence had substantially abated. In the 16 years from 1947 through 1962, 29 people died in labor conflicts, a rate much lower than in previous eras. The study noted that attacks on strikers by company guards had all but disappeared. They estimated from NLRB records that 80 to 100 acts of violence by union members or supporters occurred each year, most of the attacks on people being unplanned fights with strikebreakers crossing picket lines. In the 1960s, the most common complaint of union violence was of sabotage during labor disputes. Numerous incidents included dynamite explosions, but targeting property, and without any dynamite-related injuries.[1]

Occasionally a violent dispute can involve entire unions, when one union breaks another's strike. In 2004, the murder of Keith Frogson in the village of Annesley Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire in England may have been the result of a feud dating from the coal-miner's strike in the 1980s, when Mr Frogson and his alleged killer were members of two opposed unions, the established and militant National Union of Mineworkers and the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers.[12]

..."the right of employers to manage their own business to suit themselves," is fast coming to mean in effect nothing less than a right to manage the country to suit themselves.[11]

Protest and verbal abuse are routinely aimed against union members or replacement workers who cross picket lines ("blacklegs") during industrial disputes. The inherent aim of a union is to create a labor monopoly so as to balance the monopsony a large employer enjoys as a purchaser of labor. Strikebreakers threaten that goal and undermine the union's bargaining position, and occasionally this erupts into violent confrontation, with violence committed either by, or against, strikers.[1] Some who have sought to explain such violence observe, if labor disputes are accompanied by violence, it may be because labor has no legal redress.[10] As early as 1894, workers were declaring,

Union violence most typically occurs in specific situations, and has more frequently been aimed at preventing replacement workers from taking jobs during a strike, than at managers or employers.[1]

Employers and workers have each been on the side of aggressor and victim at different times.[1] The "most virulent" violence in industrial disputes has been committed to deny unions recognition, or to destroy a functioning union.[1]

According to a 1969 study, no major labor organization in American history has ever advocated violence as a policy, although some, in the early part of the 20th century, systematically used violence, most notably the Western Federation of Miners, and the International Association of Bridge Structural Iron Workers.[1] However, violence does occur in the context of industrial disputes. When violence has been committed by, or in the name of, the union, it has tended to be narrowly focused upon targets which are associated with the employer in question, or upon others closely associated with the target.[1] If union recognition was extended, an employer was more likely to consider a strike just a temporary rupture in labor relations. Violence was greater in conflicts in which there was a question of whether union recognition would be extended.[1]



  • Overview 1
  • History 2
    • Great Railroad Strike of 1877 2.1
    • Haymarket affair of 1886 2.2
    • Burlington strike of 1888 2.3
    • Labor unrest in 1892 2.4
      • Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor strike 2.4.1
      • Homestead Strike, and an assassination attempt 2.4.2
    • Battle of Virden, 1898 2.5
    • Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899 2.6
    • Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-04 2.7
    • International Association of Bridge Structural Iron Workers, 1906-1911 2.8
    • Battle of Blair Mountain, 1921 2.9
    • The Herrin Massacre, 1922 2.10
  • False flag operations 3
  • Frameups 4
  • Research on union violence 5
  • Incidents 6
  • Legal status 7
  • Management violence 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

According to a study in 1969, the United States has had the bloodiest and most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world, and there have been few industries which have been immune.[1]

violence against unions and their members.[5][6][7][8][9]


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