Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Is The OWS Movement Too Nice?

OWS Poster (Image from Flickr, by Takomabibelot)
Aside from the few allegations of protesters throwing paint, smashing windows, or spray painting buildings, the tactics of the OWS have been pretty peaceful, mellow and nice. Sure, it troubles some that they have persistently tried to live outdoors in public where their frustration and anger are clearly visible to all, or that they have shut down a few terminals of a few ports for a few hours, costing a few companies a few million dollars. But let’s be honest, when compared with protests of the past, particularly those occurring during the Great Depression and the numerous violent mining and train strikes between 1870s and 1920s, the OWS movement has been pretty damned pleasant and nonthreatening. Consider the following historical examples:

The Great Upheaval of 1877
“There was a time in the history of France when the poor found themselves oppressed to such an extent that forbearance ceased to be a virtue, and hundreds of heads tumbled into the basket. That time may have arrived with us.”

These words were spoken by a cooper to a crowd of 10,000 workers in St. Louis, armed with lathes and clubs, participating in the national wave of strikes known as the Great Upheaval.  Other speakers in St. Louis openly called for the use of arms and violence, not only to defend themselves against the violence of the militias and police hired by the bosses to suppress the Great Strike, but for outright revolutionary aims:

“All you have to do. . .” said one speaker, “is to unite on one idea—that the workingmen shall rule this country. What man makes, belongs to him, and the workingmen made this country.”

St. Louis Commune, 1877 Great Upheaval
The Great Upheaval began in the fourth year of the nation’s worst depression in history. It came in the wake of great accumulation and concentration of wealth by a few major capitalists, particularly the railroad owners. In 1862, Congress granted them huge swaths of land. In 1863, they passed the National Banking Act, which greatly increased the wealth and power of financial capitalists.

The Great Upheaval began in Martinsburg, WV, on July 16, 1877, when the B&O (Baltimore and Ohio) Railroad slashed wages by 10%. The train crews refused to work, drove out the police and occupied the rail yards. Local townspeople backed the strikers. When the militia was sent in to run the trains, the strikers and their supporters derailed the trains and guarded the switches at gunpoint. While they halted all freight movement, they continued to move mail and passengers, thus maintaining public support. When militia reinforcements were sent in, most mutinied or refused to fight, as they were sympathetic to the workers. (For more, see here, here and here).

1892    Frisco Mine was dynamited by striking Coeur D’Alene miners after they discovered they had been infiltrated by Pinkertons and after one of their members had been shot. Prior to this, the mine owners had increased work hours, decreased pay and brought in a bunch of scabs to replace striking workers. Ultimately, over 600 striking miners were imprisoned without charge by the military in order to crush the strike. (Sources: Wikipedia; Fire in the Hole)

1899    Bunker Hill: Bloody strikes had been going on at this and other Idaho mines over the course of the 1890s. The mine owners had been using scabs, Pinkertons, armed goons, soldiers, lock-outs and other tactics to squeeze the workers and crush their union. In retaliation, the miners loaded a train with dynamite and delivered it to the Bunker Hill mine in 1899, killing one scab and one WFM member. (Sources:; Wikipedia)

1920    Matewan Battle: Ten people were killed when coal company officials in Matewan, West Virginia, tried to remove striking union workers from company housing, sending agents from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency. Sheriff Hatfield, who supported the miners’ right to organize, tried to arrest the detectives who, in turn, tried to arrest Hatfield. Unbeknownst to the detectives, they had been surrounded by miners. When the smoke had cleared, there were 7 dead detectives (including Albert and Lee Felts) and 4 dead townspeople. In the time leading up to the Battle of Matewan, numerous miners had been assassinated by vigilantes, goons or detectives. (From Workday Minnesota, Wikipedia, Daily Bleed and

Miners with Bomb Dropped by U.S.
1921    the Battle of Blair Mountain: 20,000 coal miners marched to the anti-union stronghold Logan County to overthrow Sheriff Dan Chaffin, the coal company tyrant who murdered miners with impunity. The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest civil uprisings in U.S. history and the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War, lasting 5 days and involving 10,000-15,000 coal miners confronting an army of scabs and police. The battle began after Sheriff Sid Hatfield (an ally of the miners and hero from the Battle of Matewan) was assassinated by Baldwin-Felts agents. Much of the region was still under martial law as a result of the Battle of Matewan. Miners began to leave the mountains armed and ready for battle. Mother Jones tried to dissuade them from marching into Logan and Mingo Counties, fearing a bloodbath. Many accused her of losing her nerve. The miners ignored her and a battle ensued between miners and cops, private detectives, scabs and eventually the U.S. military. The uprising was quashed after aerial bombardment by the U.S. government. (From Workday Minnesota, Wikipedia and the Daily Bleed) (From the Daily Bleed)

January 3, 1931 Roughly 500 farmers marched into the business section of England, Arkansas, to demand food for their starving families after their crops were ruined by a long drought. The farmers threatened to take the food by force if it was not freely provided to them, one of scores of such incidents that occurred during the Great Depression (and surprisingly have not happened more frequently during the current one). (From Workday Minnesota)

January 4, 1933 – Angered by increasing farm foreclosures, members of Iowa's Farmers Holiday Association threatened to lynch banking representatives and law officials who instituted foreclosure proceedings for the duration of the Depression. In April, 600 farmers battled the sheriff and his deputies to prevent a foreclosure. A group of farmers dragged a district judge from his chair, put a rope around his neck, and threaten to hang him unless he promised not to issue any more eviction notices. That same month, state officers in Crawford County were beaten, prompting the Iowa governor to declare martial law in three counties and send in the National Guard. (From the Daily Bleed)

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