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Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017

Union Busters

Posted Sunday, September 6, 2009, at 12:30 PM

Union Busters - Company Owned Armored Car - Ludlow Mine
It's Labor Day weekend. In reality, it's little more to most folks than a three day weekend and the traditional end of summer, but the reason for the holiday should be remembered. Labor Day has been a Federal holiday since 1884 when President Grover Cleveland made it so.

It turns out that Cleveland was in hot water over his involvement in the deadly Pullman Strike of 1883-84. The Pullman strike was huge! 225,000 American Railway Union (ARU) workers in 27 states became involved in what started out as a wildcat (unauthorized) strike by workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company.

Many readers here are likely familiar with the Pullman name. Pullman made railroad cars, and is especially remembered for it's luxury sleeping cars that bore it's name into the 1980's. Just as a note of interest, the son of Abe Lincoln became head of Pullman in it's history, but I digress.

Pullman was quite the business man. His factory was within walking distance of his town of the same name. Pullman owned everything in town, including the churches and actually charged pastors rent to preach in them. If you worked for Pullman, you had to live in his town. Pullman also controlled the rents there.

So what do you suppose happend when Pullman lowered wages, increased hours, and didn't reduce his workers rent? Ka-Chow... walkout! Now a single local union shop walkout ordinally wouldn't trigger an all out strike, but a lady named Jennie Curtis made a speech to the ARU begging for total union support... she got it.

To make a rather ugly story shorter, by the time the whole mess was over, the body count was 13 dead and 53 wounded. President Cleveland declared Labor Day after the strike ended, and it is speculated that he did so because his sending US troops to settle a labor dispute caused a national outcry. Cleveland lost the following election, and his labor stance of 1884 is credited as a major reason for his defeat. I find it interesting that Cleveland was elected to a second term 4 years later.

Organized labor has taken a lot of grief over the years. Union busters of all types have been employed to control workers. Innocent women and children have died in these conflicts such as the Ludlow Massacre. This one involved the Rockefellers with the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. Among the dead were 2 women and 11 children. Turns out the tent city the company had for the miners was set on fire, and the women and children died as a result. This dispute was especially ugly, and haunted Rockefeller for years. The above picture shows what union folks had to deal with.

So this weekend, I hope you will take the time to read a little about some of the biggest labor disputes in US history. Labor disputes have gotten pretty ugly over the years with pretty normal people doing some pretty uncomnon things...

Pullman Strike

Ludlow Massacre

Battle Of The Overpass

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Thank you for reminding us of the workers union history. Also check out the union busting tactics of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford.

Unions gave the US a middle class and union busting policies of the republicans are destroying the middle class.

People who are doing well as union members and voting Republican should get a clue.

If you haven't got a clue yet, please get a copy of "What's The Matter With Kansas" and read it.

The main reason Republicans do not want a "Public Option" for health care is because they are "pro business and anti-worker". "They" dream to being one of the insurance CEOs that take home millions of dollars a year. "Screw the worker. Let them eat cake"!!!!

Happy Labor Day,


-- Posted by endersn on Mon, Sep 7, 2009, at 10:55 AM

It is very interesting about how Cleveland won a second term. In my class this year I showed a series of videos on the presidents that was released by History Channel.

The American people apparently decided that how much they disliked and distrusted Cleveland, they liked him a heck of a lot more than Benjamin Harrison. He is the only President to lose an election and be re-elected the next term and the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

Also to note that after Thomas A. Hendricks (a distant relative) died another Vice President was not named to finish the term (which was nearly three years). This marks the last time that the Vice Presidents office went vacant for most if not all of a Presidents term.

Great blog Brian, most people don't actually know how we have a lot of our smaller holidays. Thanks for shedding light on this one.

-- Posted by MichaelHendricks on Mon, Sep 7, 2009, at 9:44 PM

Good article.

Stand by for the name calling to begin!

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Mon, Sep 7, 2009, at 10:34 PM

Thank you for getting the facts out about the origins of Labor Day.

-- Posted by ontheleftcoast on Tue, Sep 8, 2009, at 2:35 AM

I was intrigued to read in your citations the comment made by the federal mediator during the Ludlow case in Colorado

"Theoretically, perhaps, the case of having nothing to do in this world but work, ought to have made these men of many tongues, as happy and contented as the managers claim ... To have a house assigned you to live in ... to have a store furnished you by your employer where you are to buy of him such foodstuffs as he has, at a price he fixes ... to have churches, schools ... and public halls free for you to use for any purpose except to discuss politics, religion, trade-unionism or industrial conditions; in other words, to have everything handed down to you from the top; to be ... prohibited from having any thought, voice or care in anything in life but work, and to be assisted in this by gunmen whose function it was, principally, to see that you did not talk labor conditions with another man who might accidentally know your language -- this was the contented, happy, prosperous condition out of which this strike grew ... That men have rebelled grows out of the fact that they are men."

Federal mediator Ethelbert Stewart October 1913

As has been noted, there are good unions and bad unions, but the contributions these "men of many tongues" made to the American worker at the turn of the last century are unparalleled.

Unfortunately, power corrupts and well, you all know the rest...

-- Posted by newdawn on Tue, Sep 8, 2009, at 2:28 PM

Mr. Sceptre, I do believe that you pretty much described the good and bad of most of the human race. Some good things about everyone, some bad things about everyone. Some more good, some more bad, unions in deed have some good points and some bad points but some in this area have decided that all aspects of unions are bad.

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Tue, Sep 8, 2009, at 11:58 PM

I agree Sceptre. I too was in a union... CWA (Communication Workers of America), was a shop steward, got promoted and got a chance to see the union/company relationship from both sides.

One thing I know for sure, union members that strike for higher wages and benefits never get that money back. Oh sure, they may get a better paycheck after the strike (managers were not to call it a strike but a work stoppage), but the company ends up saving so much on wages during the work stoppage that they end up ahead in the long run... go figure.

-- Posted by Brian Hoag on Thu, Sep 10, 2009, at 9:31 PM

Back in ancient history, a Northern Plains farmer and GTA (CENEX today) member, volunteered to go into the deep south to help organize farmer-owned supply and marketing cooperatives.

Level heads familiar with the region strongly advised that the first meetings be kept secret, and protected by armed guards.

The only available armed guards came from student ranks of three land grant colleges. The bi-racial fully-integrated meetings were always in remote rural churches, and the sites always had sizable streams with the standard steel girdered, plank surfaced bridges.

Once those attending crossed those bridges, the planks were removed, effectively providing a defensive moat. Three students with deer rifles and shotguns were ample to provide protection

The official excuse used to form mobs to break up these "outlaw" meetings was the bi-racial nature.

Actual reason, effective farm co-ops ended the monopoly of all stores being owned or controlled by major growers.

Funny thing, after quiet meetings in East Texas, the second event toward Central Louisiana drew a deputized posse headed by the sheriff in his big black LaSalle.

They were moving rapidly to surprise "those communists," arrest them and destroy the conspiracy -- It was NO secret that the Montana farmer, who had served three years in the South Pacific, was to be eliminated. After all, he was an outside agitator and trouble maker.

When that big LaSalle high-centered atop those girders about mid-way of the bridge, the sheriff's rightous anger cooled considerably.

Seems he was real content to sit there, enjoy his jug of shine, smoke a cuban cigar and listen to country music on the car radio.

Amazing how civil the leader of an official lynch mob can become, with two '03 Springfields and one 12 guage Browning semi-auto staring him in the face.

At that time, it was common for a successful small Southern town's merchants to rent month-to-month from a major land owner.

Sure kept them in line.

Under that socio-economic system, open opposition to the "good ol' boys" who usually controlled the guns and political power, could easily prove fatal to life and to business stability.

-- Posted by HerndonHank on Tue, Sep 15, 2009, at 5:29 PM

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