Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Impending Violent Demise of Unions

In 1981, Reagan fired the striking PATCO air traffic controllers, imprisoning many. Spain had a similar response this year when their airport workers went on strike, forcing them back to work at gunpoint and imprisoning those who refused. While the justification in all these cases was that the strikes were a threat to public safety, national security or the smooth functioning of government, the real reason was always to secure profits. Now Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin says he’ll call up the National Guard if state employees fail to show up for work in response to his austerity budget proposal. (Imagine how dangerous it would be if Wisconsin teachers and government employees failed to come to work for even a day.)

Obviously, when politicians make such threats, they realize that they have already provoked us with something terrible and outrageous. Walker understands that he is about to make the people of Wisconsin pay for the greed of its bankers and CEOs and he also realizes that they are unlikely to accept it passively. And they shouldn’t. Threats like this should be immediately and aggressively opposed by all workers, and not just in Wisconsin. For those who say his threats are just posturing, think again: he says he has beefed up the National Guard in anticipation of civil unrest.

The Daily Censored sees Walker’s threat as a move toward fascism, comparing him to Mussolini and Pinochet. Similar references to fascism were published in The World Socialist Website, when Zapatero brought in the military and forced air traffic controllers back to work at gunpoint in December.

Cries of fascism are starting to seem reasonable with the Patriot Act and the rise of Brown Shirt tactics by Tea Baggers, militias, and anti-immigrant activists. However, Walker’s move is consistent with how capitalism has always operated, including in the freedom loving U.S.: whenever “nice” methods fail to keep wages low and regulations favorable to the ruling elite, then legal, police and military threats are used. It is easy for Americans to not see this, as state violence against workers has been relatively light over the past sixty years. However, neither violence nor arrests have been completely absent. I myself have been arrested for participating in labor actions. A.J. Duffy, outgoing head of UTLA, was arrested for protesting massive LAUSD layoffs. It should be pointed out that Duffy’s action came in the wake of a court injunction forcing all UTLA members to go to work or face $1,000 fines and the loss of their teaching credentials.

Throughout the history of the U.S., state violence against workers has been routine, with hundreds of workers slaughtered by the National Guard, local police, militias,  private cops and vigilante thugs. Nor was it uncommon for workers to be jailed, tortured or deported. Here are some of the examples of deadly assaults on workers that occurred just in the first one-third of the 20th century (the 19th century had plenty if its own):
  • Pana, Illinois, 1904
  • United Fruit in New Orleans, 1913
  • Ludlow massacre, Colorado, 1914
  • Everett massacre, Washington, 1916
  • IWW organizer Frank Little was lynched, Butte Montana, 1917
  • UMW organizer Ginger Goodwin was killed, 1918
  • Centralia massacre, Washington, 1919
  • Matewan massacre, West Virginia, 1920
  • Coal Mine Wars, West Virginia, 1920-1921
  • Herrin massacre, Illinois, 1922
  • Columbine massacre, Colorado, 1927
  • Marian North Carolina textile strikes, 1929
  • Harlan, Kentucky, 1931, 1939
  • Ford massacre, Dearborn, Michigan, 1932
  • Progressive Mine Workers strike in Illinois, 1932-1937
  • Minneapolis Teamsters Strike, 1933
  • UAW strike in Toledo, Ohio 1934
  • San Francisco General Strike, California, 1934
  • 1934 also saw workers killed in Galveston, TX, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina and Pennsylvania
  • 1935 saw workers massacred at both ends of California, in El Centro and Eureka; as well as La Grange, GA; Nottingham, PA; in addition to Detroit, Minneapolis, New Orleans and Houston.

Bottom line folks: the ruling elite has become as emboldened as they've ever been and are positioning themselves to completely crush labor. They see how weak the labor movement has become. They manufactured an anti-labor hysteria and the unions have done virtually nothing to oppose it. Now they're tightening the screws and daring us to fight back. We have no other choice. We must fight back or accept declining wages, benefits and working conditions, growing poverty and homelessness. From Los Angeles to Illinois to Wisconsin, and everywhere else, they will threaten us with arrest, fines and even violence.

Workers in the early 20th century risked imprisonment and death fighting for the labor protections and living standards that we enjoy today. They sacrificed and suffered to end child labor, shorten working hours, and win sick leave, vacations, pensions. 

Are we going to throw this all away or we going to fight back?

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