Philip Taft and Philip Ross, "American Labor Violence: Its Causes, Character, and Outcome," The History of Violence in America: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, ed. Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr, 1969.
Chapter 8


By Philip Taft and Philip Ross*

The United States has had the bloodiest and most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world. Labor violence was not confined to certain industries, geographic areas, or specific groups in the labor force, although it has been more frequent in some industries than in others. There have been few sections and scarcely any industries in which violence has not erupted at some time, and even more serious confrontations have on occasion followed. Native and foreign workers, whites and blacks have at times sought to prevent strike replacements from taking their jobs, and at other times have themselves been the object of attack. With few exceptions, labor violence in the United States arose in specific situations, usually during a labor dispute. The precipitating causes have been attempts by pickets and sympathizers to prevent a plant on strike from being reopened with strikebreakers,1 or attempts of company guards, police, or even by National Guardsmen to prevent such interference. At different times employers and workers have played the roles of aggressors and victims. Union violence was directed at limited objectives; the prevention of the entrance of strikebreakers or raw materials to a struck plant, or interference with finished products [281] leaving the premises. While the number seriously injured and killed was high in some of the more serious encounters, labor violence rarely spilled over to other segments of the community.

Strikers, no matter how violent they might be, would virtually always seek to win the sympathy of the community to their side, and therefore attacks or even incitements against those not connected or aiding the employer would be carefully avoided. Such conduct was especially common in the organized strikes, those which were called and directed by a labor organization. Strike violence can therefore be differentiated from violence that is stimulated by general discontent and a feeling of injustice. Moreover, the unions were normally anxious to avoid violence and limit its impact because, simultaneously with the strike, the organization might also be operating under a contract and negotiating with other employers in an attempt to solve differences and promote common interests. Unions seek and must have at least the grudging cooperation of employers. No major labor organization in American history ever advocated violence as a policy, even though the labor organizations recognized that it might be a fact of industrial life.

Trade unions from the beginning of their existence stressed their desire for peaceful relations with employers. However, minority groups within the labor movement or without direct attachment to it advocated the use of violence against established institutions and also against leaders in government, industry, and society. The union leader might hope to avoid violence, but recognized that in the stress of a labor dispute it might be beyond the ability of the union to prevent clashes of varying seriousness. They might erupt spontaneously without plan or purpose in response to an incident on the picket line or provocation. Those who saw in violence a creative force regarded the problem differently; they had no objectives of immediate gain; they were not concerned with public opinion. They were revolutionaries for whom the radical transformation of the economic and social system was the only and all-consuming passion.

The most virulent form of industrial violence occurred in situations in which efforts were made to destroy a functioning union or to deny to a union recognition. [282]


There is only a solitary example in American labor history of the advocacy of violence as a method of political and economic change. In the 1880's a branch of anarchism emerged that claimed a connection with organized and unorganized labor and advocated individual terror and revolution by force. The principle of "propaganda by the deed," first promulgated at the anarchist congress in Berne, Switzerland, in 1876, was based upon the assumption that peaceful appeals were inadequate to rouse the masses. This view could be interpreted as a call upon workers to create their own independent institutions, such as trade unions, mutual aid societies, and producer and consumer cooperatives. However, almost from the beginning this doctrine was interpreted to mean engaging in insurrectionary and putschist activities, and in terror directed against the individual.2 Emphasis upon individual force gained added strength from the terroristic acts of members of the People's Will, an organization of Russian revolutionaries who carried out campaigns of violence against persons, culminating in the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881.3

Not all anarchists approved these tactics. Many thought that social problems could be solved only by addressing oneself to the removal of evils, by changing institutions and the minds of men. In addition, the reaction against acts of terror, the arrests and imprisonment of militants, weakened the movement by depriving it of some of its more vigorous and courageous elements. Nevertheless, the London congress of 1881, which established the International Working People's Association as the center for the national anarchist federations, came out in favor of "propaganda by the deed" as a creative method for carrying on warfare against capitalist society and its leaders.4

Social revolutionary views were not widely accepted in the United States during the 1880's, but the difference between the moderates and the militants, which divided the European movement, was also in evidence here. As early as 1875 education and defense organizations (Lehr und Wehr Vereine) were organized in Chicago, and they soon spread to other cities. Members met regularly and drilled with arms. It was the issue of using arms which was largely responsible for the split in the Socialist Labor Party in [283] 1880, and the more militant social revolutionaries gradually approached the anarchist position on politics and violence.

An attempt to unite the scattered groups of social revolutionaries was made by the Chicago conference of 1881 and was unsuccessful. The meeting adopted a resolution recognizing "the armed organizations of workingmen who stand ready with the gun to resist encroachment upon their rights, and recommend the formation of like organizations in all States."5 This was only a prelude to the convention held in Pittsburgh in 1883, dominated by Johann Most, a German-born revolutionary who had served prison terms in a number of countries. Most had come to the United States in December 1882, and transferred his journal, Freiheit, to New York. Through the spoken and written word he became the leader of the anarchists in the United States and the leading figure of the predominantly immigrant revolutionaries.

In typically Socialist fashion, the congress explained the causes of the evils afflicting modern society. Since all institutions are aligned against him, the worker has a right to arm himself for self-defense and offense. The congress noted that no ruling class ever surrendered its privileges and urged organization for planning and carrying out rebellion. Capitalists will not leave the field except by force.6 These ideas had some influence among a limited number of workers, largely immigrants. Most himself did not favor trade unions, regarding them as compromising organizations, and even refused to support the 8-hour movement in the 1880's. Anarchists, however, were active in union organizations and some regarded them as the ideal type of workmen's societies. Albert Parsons, August Spies, and Samuel Fielden, all of them defendants in the Haymarket Trial, had close connections with a part of the Chicago labor movement.

The anarchists were not all of the same view, but many of them including Most not only advocated the formation of armed societies, but published materials on the making of explosives. Revolutionary War Science (Revolutiondre Kriegswissenschaft) is a treatise on the use of arms and the making of what we would call "Molotov cocktails." There is little evidence that these suggestions were ever taken seriously by many workers, and the anarchist movement's [284] greatest influence in the United States was in the 1880's. Even at the height of their influence the anarchists had few supporters. Whatever violence took place in the United States cannot be traced to the thinking of Most or any of his coworkers. In fact, even then it was widely believed that the armed societies were engaging in playing a game, and that they represented little danger to the community. It is quite certain that violence in labor disputes was seldom inspired by the doctrine of "propaganda by the deed," whose self-defeating nature convinced many of its exponents of its fallacy. In this regard, experience was a more potent force than moral considerations. Governments reacted to these terrorist methods with savage repression. One of the few incidents of anarchist violence in the United States was an attack by Alexander Berkman on Henry Frick during the Homestead strike. The boomerang effect of this action was to transform the hated Frick into a folk hero when, though wounded, he fought off his attacker. The assassination of William McKinley by the anarchist Czolgosz is another example. Most did not repudiate the tactic, but laid down conditions for its use that were critical of Berkman's conduct.

In France, Italy, and Spain anarchist-inspired violence was savagely repressed, as were the few attempts in Germany and Austria.7


Unlike the other national federations such as the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the IWW advocated direct action and sabotage. These doctrines were never clearly defined, but did not include violence against isolated individuals. Pamphlets on sabotage by Andre Tridon, Walker C. Smith, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn were published, but Haywood and the lawyers for the defense at the Federal trial for espionage in Chicago in 1918 denied that sabotage meant destruction of property. Instead Haywood claimed it meant slowing down on the job when the employer refused to make concessions.8

It is of some interest that IWW activity was virtually free of violence. The free-speech fight was a form of passive [285] resistance in which members mounted soapboxes and filled the jails. The IWW did not conduct a large number of strikes, and aside from the one in McKee's Rock, Pa., a spontaneous strike which the IWW entered after it was called, the IWW strikes were peaceful.

The two bloodiest episodes in the life of the IWW were in Everett and Centralia, Wash., each connected with the attempt to organize lumber workers. The Everett confrontation started when the Lumber Workers Industrial Union No. 500 opened a hall in Everett in the spring of 1916, in an effort to recruit members. Street meetings were prevented and the sheriff deported the speakers and other members of the IWW to Seattle on a bus. It is of some interest to note that a speaker who advocated violence at a meeting at the IWW hall in Everett was later exposed as a private detective. For a time the deportations were stopped, but they were resumed in October 1916. An estimated 300 to 400 members were deported by the sheriff and vigilantes from Everett. On October 30, 1916, 41 IWW men left Seattle by boat. They were met by the sheriff and a posse, seized, and made to run the gauntlet between two rows of vigilantes who beat their prisoners with clubs.

On November 5, 1916, the IWW in Seattle chartered a boat, the Verona, and placed an additional 39 men on another vessel. The chartered boat set out for Everett. Having been informed of the attempt of the IWW to land peacefully, the sheriff and about 200 armed men met the chartered vessel at the dock. The sheriff sought to speak to the leaders. When none came forward and the passengers sought to land, a signal to fire into the disembarking men was given by the sheriff. Five members of the IWW and two vigilantes were killed, and 31 members of the IWW and 19 vigilantes were wounded by gunfire. The Verona and the other vessel carrying members of the IWW returned to Seattle without unloading at Everett. Almost 300 were arrested, and 74 were charged with first-degree murder. The acquittal of the first defendant led to the dismissal of the case against the others.9

Another tragedy occurred in Centralia, Wash., a lumber town of almost 20,000 inhabitants. Several times the IWW sought to open a hall in that community, but in 1916 the members were expelled by a citizens' committee, and 2 years later the IWW hall was wrecked during a Red Cross [286] parade. With dogged persistence the IWW opened another hall. When threats were made to wreck it, the IWW issued a leaflet pleading for avoidance of raids upon it. During the Armistice Day parade in 1919, members of the IWW were barricaded in their hall and when the hall was attacked, opened fire. Three members of the American Legion were killed, and a fourth died from gunshot wounds inflicted by Wesley Everest, himself a war veteran. Everest was lynched that night by a citizen mob. Eleven members of the IWW were tried for murder. One was released, two were acquitted and seven were convicted of second degree murder. A labor jury from Seattle that had been attending the trial claimed that the men fired in self-defense and should have been acquitted.10 It is not necessary to attempt to redetermine the verdict to recognize that the IWW in Everett and Centralia was the victim, and the violence was a response to attacks made upon its members for exercising their constitutional rights.

A number of States, beginning with Minnesota in 1917, passed criminal syndicalist laws that forbade the advocacy of force and violence as a means of social change. On the basis of the theory that the IWW advocated force and violence to bring about industrial changes, several hundred men were tried, and 31 men served in the penitentiary in Idaho, 52 in Washington, and 133 in California. These convictions were not based upon acts of violence committed by those tried.11


Repudiation of theories did not eliminate the practice of violence from the American labor scene. The pervasiveness of violence in American labor disputes appears paradoxical because the great majority of American workers have never supported views or ideologies that justified the use of force as a means of reform or basic social change, nor have American workers normally engaged in the kind of political activity that calls for demonstrations or for physical confrontation with opponents.. Through most of its history, organized labor in the United States has depended largely upon economic organizations -- unions -- for advancement through collective bargaining, and upon [287] pressure politics and cooperation with the old parties for achieving its political aims Yet we are continually confronted with examples of violent confrontations between labor and management. Does industrial violence reveal a common characteristic with basic causes and persistent patterns of behavior, or is it a series of incidents linked only by violence? Labor violence has appeared under many conditions, and only an examination of the events themselves can reveal their nature and meaning,

1. The Strikes and Riots of 1877

The unexpected strikes and riots which swept over the United States in 1877 with almost cyclonic force began in Martinsburg, W. Va., after the Baltimore Ohio Railroad had announced its second wage cut in a relatively short period. The men left their trains and drove back those who sought to replace them. Governor Henry W. Mathews called upon President Rutherford B. Hayes for Federal assistance, and the latter, despite his reluctance, directed troops to be sent.12 Federal troops had a calming influence on the rioters in Martinsburg, but 2 days later, on July 20, Governor John Lee Carroll of Maryland informed the President that an assemblage of rioters "... has taken possession of the Baltimore Ohio Railroad depot" in Baltimore, had set fire to it, and "driven off the firemen who attempted to extinguish the same, and it is impossible to disperse the rioters." Governor Carroll also asked for Federal aid.13

Order was restored immediately by Federal troops, but Governor Carroll then appealed for help in putting down a disturbance at Cumberland. Requests also were made for troops to be sent to Philadelphia, where the authorities feared outbreak of rioting. The most serious trouble spot, however, was Pittsburgh, where the attempt to introduce "double headers" was the cause of one of the more serious disturbances of the year. The changes might have been accepted if they had not followed cuts in pay and loss of jobs -- both caused by declining business. Open resistance began, and when a company of militia sought to quell the disturbance it was forced to retreat before the mob and take refuge in a railroad roundhouse where it was under constant attack. A citizens' posse and Federal troops restored order. [288]

Railroads in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey suffered almost complete disruption. The Erie, New York Central, the Delaware Lackawanna Western, and the Canada Southern operating in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York States were struck on July 24, idling about 100,000 workers. Federal and State troops were used to suppress rioting, and sometimes the State police were themselves the cause of violence. After 13 persons were killed and 43 wounded in a clash between militia and citizens in Reading, Pa., for example, a coroner's jury blamed the troops for an unjustified assault upon peaceful citizens.

In Ohio the railroads were blocked, but the Governor's plea for Federal aid was not met. "In the end the State authorities, assisted by the National Guard and the citizens' committees succeeded in quelling the disturbances at Zanesville, Columbus, Toledo, and Cleveland, but it was nearly the middle of August before order had been completely restored." The strikes and rioting moved westward and Indiana and Illinois were affected. In the face of a threatened strike, the Governor of Indiana refused to appeal for Federal troops and the latters' duties were limited to protecting Federal property and enforcing orders of the Federal courts. Work on the railroads entering Chicago was suspended, and rioting broke out in the city. On the 26th of July a bloody skirmish between the police, National Guardsmen, and a mob resulted in the killing of 19 and the wounding of more than 100 persons. It started with resistance of a mob to the attempts of the police to clear the streets, and it ended when the police and militia charged the crowd.

During July all traffic was suspended in East St. Louis, and a large crowd took possession of the streets and dared the police and guardsmen to come out and fight. It was only when Federal troops responded to the pleas of a Federal court that peace was restored. At the same time, work in St. Louis was completely suspended.

In summary, a recent student tells us:

In 1877 the disorders swept through the major rail centers of the nation: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha, to name only the more important. Outside this central area there were brief flare-ups in New York City and Albany in the Northeast, in Little Rock, New Orleans, and Galveston in the South, and in San Francisco on the Pacific Slope. About two-thirds of the country's total rail mileage [289] lay within the strike-affected area, and in those zones strikers halted most freight trains and delayed many passenger and mail trains.14

The Report of the Committee to Investigate the Railroad Riots in July, 1877, issued by the Pennsylvania Legislature, limits itself to events within that State. Nevertheless, it alludes to factors which were present in virtually every other community in which rioting took place. The report states that the riots

... were the protests of laborers against the system by which his wages were arbitrarily fixed and lowered by his employer without consultation with him, and without his consent.... The immediate cause of the first strike . . . that at Pittsburgh, July 19th, was the order by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to run "double headers" .... This order of itself, had there been no previous reductions of wages or dismissals of men on account of the depression in business, would probably have caused no strike, but following so soon after the second reduction . . . and the feeling of uneasiness and dissatisfaction existing among the laboring men of the country generally, caused by the want of labor and the low price thereof as compared with a few years previous, all together combined to set in motion this strike . . . Each strike was independent of those on other roads, each having a local cause particularly its own. As before stated, there was a sort of epidemic of strikes running through the laboring classes of the country, more particularly those in the employ of large corporations, caused by the great depression of business which followed the panic of 1873, by means whereof many men were thrown out of work, and the wages of those who get work were reduced.15

The riots of 1877 mirrored deeply felt grievances generated by several years of unemployment and wage cuts. All the rioting cannot be attributed to striking workmen and their sympathizers. Railroads, urban transportation systems, and trucking are among the industries that are almost completely exposed to attack during a labor dispute. They operate in the open, and it is difficult to prevent attacks by strikers and sympathizers upon working personnel and property. The strikes and riots of 1877 were, however, a violent protest against deteriorating conditions and the suffering and misery endured during a great depression. The widespread and ferocious reaction has no parallel in our history, but there are others of lesser magnitude that were important in shaping labor-management relations.16

There is no evidence that the riots of 1877 brought reforms in the handling of railroad disputes, which was the initial cause of the disturbances. They did demonstrate that [290] the United States would not escape the trials and tribulations affecting other industrial nations, and that more attention must be given to the problems that industrial societies tend to generate. It was, however, more than a decade later that the first hesitant step was taken by the Federal Government to provide a method of adjusting labor disputes, a method that was never tried. Not until the Erdman Act of 1898 did the Federal Government provide a usable procedure for settling labor-management disputes on the railroads. An added provision guaranteeing railroad workers protection of the right to organize was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court when challenged by a carrier, Adair v. United States, 1908.

2. The Southwestern Railroad Strike

The railroads were the scene of another extensive strike in 1885-86, although it was comparatively a mild contest. The Southwestern strike was a two-stage affair. It began in March 1885 in the shops of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, when a demand by an assembly of the Knights of Labor for the restoration of a wage cut of the previous year was not met. Intervention of the Governors of Kansas and Missouri ended the walkout. The strike had the support of the citizens along the right of way, and no violence took place during the walkout. In the next year the Knights of Labor had another encounter with Jay Gould, who controlled the Southwestern roads, and another settlement was reached. However, the parties were not happy with the settlement, and in January of 1886 another strike was called by assemblies of the Knights of Labor. This time the company rejected compromises, and the sheriff of the area around Parsons, Kan., reported, on March 27, 1886, that efforts to move trains "were forcibly resisted. . . . Many agents had been 'killed' and disabled, and a serious wreck had occurred."17 Four hundred troops were ordered to Parsons by the Governor. In Fort Worth, Tex., a train proceeding under guard encountered a switch open and men hiding besides the track. An exchange of fire resulted in the wounding of three policemen and a striker.18 Troops were ordered to the scene of the trouble. On April 9, 1886, the sheriff of St. Clair County, Ill., where East St. Louis is located, reported: "There is shooting going on ... between [291] a force of deputies and the mob." Six men and a woman were killed, and it was later established that the deputies had fired rifle shots into a crowd and then escaped to St. Louis. The congressional committee investigating the strike noted "that in addition to the striking railroad men, a large and irresponsible mob had collected and were the most active in inciting violence. Some of the men had never been railroad employees; others, it is alleged, had long been black-listed by the railroads." The incident in which six men and a woman were killed started as a result of the determination of the Louisville Nashville Railroad to operate its trains out of East St. Louis, Ill. It fortified its determination by the employment of a large force of guards following the forcible efforts of strikers and sympathizers to close down railroad operations at this point. On April 9 an attempt to move a coal train encountered opposition from armed men. A posse directed the mob to disperse, and attempted to arrest a man.

The squad of deputies was then furiously assailed with stones, as is alleged by the deputies, several of them being struck. One of the deputies raised his rifle, fired, and a man was seen to fall. The showers of stones and pistol-shots from all directions began to rain upon the officers, who returned the fire with their guns and pistols, with deadly effect, into the crowd. The firing was kept up until the crossing was clear, the people fleeing panic-stricken and rushing into houses in every direction for protection and safety ....

Bloodshed was succeeded by incendiarism.

About 40 railroad cars were burned. At the request of the sheriff, a large force of State troops was sent to East St. Louis and they succeeded in restoring order.19

3. Other Strikes in 1886

Employers who refused to deal with the organizations of their workmen began to rely on local and State governments for assistance during labor disputes. Although the great majority of strikes were peaceful, whether they succeeded or failed to obtain their objectives, the possibility of violence tended to be smaller in contests in which union recognition was not an issue. Under such circumstances the employer was likely to regard the strike as a temporary rupture of relations between himself and his labor force. When recognition was in question, the employer might seek [292] to demonstrate that the strikers could be replaced and that their cause was lost. For the workers, the issue was not only the demands for which they struck, but the possibility that they would be replaced by newly hired workmen. Employers were therefore anxious to have the support of additional police and State troops if possible. An obliging sheriff might, as in the Chicago stockyards strike of 1886, plead for the sending of troops, who upon their arrival would find the community peaceful and threats of disorder nonexistent.20

Strikes in 1886 were generally peaceful. The U.S. Commissioner of Labor reported that in that year 1,572 strikes took place involving 610,000 workers. Some employers, including powerful ones, were likely to refuse to deal with a labor organization representing their employees. Workers were not then any more than now inclined to give up their unions without a struggle. In the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania, the operators had decided to deny recognition to the union with which they had been dealing, and the miners reacted to this change by striking. Their peaceful conduct did not save the area from violence. A committee from the U.S. House of Representatives noted; "Throughout the Lehigh region there were no riots. . . . These men were not a mob. They obeyed the law. They simply declined to work for shriveled wages. . . . During the whole of the strike serious violence was incited by the company rather than the men."21

Nor was this an isolated instance of the use of force against workers on strike. When the textile workers of Fall River, Mass., went on strike in July 1875, the mayor called for troops. The strikers were boisterous, but peaceful, and the Massachusetts Adjutant General reported that the "evening and night" after the arrival of troops "was remarkably quiet, more so than usual." No reports of disorders were made, but the presence of the troops obviously cowed the strikers, who withdrew to their homes.22

This use of troops was not always unquestioned. General C. H. Grosvenor on March 19, 1875, submitted a resolution requesting the Governor to inform the House, "what, if any, public reason or necessity existed for the calling out, arming and sending to Nelsonville, the Ohio Independent Militia, on the 11 and 12 of June 1874." It was called out during a strike of coal miners. "The statute of Ohio [293] provides for the organization of the independent militia and the Governor is ex-officio commander-in-chief; but he has no power to call out the militia until an exigency has arisen which requires the presence of troops." Grosvenor denied the existence of riot or disorder:

Was there insurrection or not? The Governor says there was not. Was there invasion? Nobody pretends it. Was there any resistance to the enforcement of law? There was not. If there was no riot or insurrection, if there was no invasion, if there was no resistance to civil authority, then the Governor of this State had no jurisdiction to call upon these companies, and his order was in violation of law, and without the authority of law.23


Not all violence was inspired by employers. While employer obduracy might lead to rejection of recognition, such conduct was in itself legally permissible. Had workers passively accepted such decisions, the level of violence in American labor disputes would have been reduced. Workers were, however, unwilling to watch their jobs forfeited to a local or imported strikebreaker. Employers could shut down their plants and attempt "to starve" their employees out of the union. Such a policy might have worked, but employers cognizant of their rights and costs frequently refused to follow such a self-denying tactic. As a consequence violence initiated from the labor side was also prevalent. In the 1890's 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. While workers might react against the denial of what they regarded as their rights, the outcome of their violent behavior seldom changed the course of events. Serious violence erupted in several major strikes of the 1890's, the question of union recognition being a factor in all of them. As will be noted below, the Homestead strike, which was a defensive action in behalf of an existing and recognized union, and the Pullman strike, which was called in behalf of other workers denied recognition, also failed. Violence in the Coeur d'Alene copper area eventually led to the destruction of the Western Federation of Miners in that district. Violence was effective in the Illinois coalfields only because the community and the Governor of the State were hostile to the [294] efforts of two coal producers to evade the terms of a contract acceptable to the great majority of producers in Illinois.

Although steel workers in Pennsylvania and copper miners in Idaho had different ethnic origins and worked under dissimilar conditions, each reacted with equal ferocity to the attempts of their employers to undermine their unions.

1. Homestead

In Homestead, Pa., the domineering head of the Carnegie Steel Co., Henry C. Frick, used a difference over wages and a contract expiration date as an excuse for breaking with the union. When the union called a strike against the demands of Frick, the latter was ready to bring in a bargeload of Pinkerton operatives to guard his plant from the harassment of union pickets. Frick's plan became known, and the guards were met by several hundred steel-workers. In the battle to land the guards from the barges, two Pinkertons and two strikers were killed. Another attempt to land also ended in failure. Eventually the Pinkertons were forced to surrender and some were severely mauled by strikers and sympathizers. At the plea of the sheriff, the Governor ordered 7,000 troops to Homestead. Leaders were arrested, but juries refused to convict.

While the violence was temporarily successful in holding off the landing attempted on July 4, it was unable to change the outcome of the contest between the union and Frick. Under the cover of the protection given to him by the National Guard, he was able to open his mills. Furnaces were lit on July 15, and the company announced that applications for work would be received until July 21. The following day a large force of nonunion men entered the plant. Ultimately the union was defeated, and according to a leading student of the steel industry of another generation, John A. Fitch, the union never recovered from its defeat in Homestead. The steel workers were fearful of Frick's attempt to break the union. The hiring of several hundred Pinkertons and their stealthy efforts to land convinced the strikers that a serious movement to destroy their organization was on the way, and the use of the hated Pinkertons sharpened their anger. An investigation by the [295] U.S. Senate noted: "Every man who testified, including the proprietors of the detective agencies, admitted that the workmen are strongly prejudiced against the so-called Pinkertons and their presence at a strike serves to unduly inflame the passions of the strikers."24

2. Coeur d'Alene

Organization of the metal miners in the Coeur d'Alene region in Idaho was followed by the mine operators' establishment of an association after the miner's union had successfully won a wage increase. A lockout was called several months after the miner's success, and every mine in the area was closed down. An offer of lower wages was rejected. The strikers were not passive. Strikebreakers were urged to leave or were forcibly expelled; court injunctions against violence were ignored. In July 1892 the situation deteriorated. A union miner was killed by guards, and it brought an attack by armed miners upon the barracks housing guards employed by the Frisco mill. It was dynamited, and one employee was killed and 20 wounded. An attack on the Gem mill followed and although five strikers were killed and more wounded, the mill surrendered. The guards gave up their weapons and were ordered out of the county. Armed with Winchesters, the armed strikers marched on Wardner, where they forced the Bunker Hill mine to discharge its nonunion contingent.

At the request of the Governor, who sent the entire National Guard, Federal troops were sent to restore order. The commanding general ordered all union men arrested and lodged in a hastily built stockade or bullpen. The commander of the State militia removed local officials sympathetic to the strikers and replaced them with others favorable to his orders. Trains were searched and suspects removed. Active union men were ordered dismissed from their jobs. The district was treated like a military zone, and companies were prohibited from employing union men. About 30 men were charged with conspiracy, and four were convicted, but subsequently released by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the miners were able to win recognition from all but the largest of the mining companies, which set the stage for a more spectacular encounter 7 years later.25 [296]

3. Use of Troops in Minor Disputes

The use of State troops against strikers was common in the 1890's. In some instances it was in response to violence or to attempts to prevent interference with strikebreakers or to the closing down of the properties. In 1894 the United Mine Workers of America called a national strike in the bituminous coal industry and the strike became the occasion for intervention of troops in many coal-mining communities. When miners in Athens County, Ohio, interfered with the movement of coal trains, the militia was sent into the area to restore order. The Kansas National Guard also saw service.26 However, the tendency of local police officers to seek the aid of State troops during industrial disturbances did not always depend upon the existence of disorder. Sometimes it was precautionary and designed to overawe the strikers. Reporting the activity of the Illinois National Guard for 1893 and 1894, the Adjutant General noted that it "has performed more active service than during its entire prior existence." At two points, the troops found no disorder and withdrew after several days. In others, militiamen prevented interference with the movement of coal, and in a third group of places, soldiers and miners staged a series of armed encounters.27

The tendency to order troops into coal-mining areas during a strike was not limited to Illinois. During the strike of 1894, troops were moved into the southwestern area of Indiana and into Mahaska County, Iowa. Fourteen companies of militiamen were on duty from 8 to 20 days in the Indiana coalfields. No report of violence was made by the authorities, and the sending of troops was evidently based on rumor or on hope that the presence of troops would intimidate the strikers.28

4. The Pullman Strike

Railroad strikes have been among the more violent types of labor dispute. Normally, railroad workers are not more aggressive than other workers. However, railroads cover large open areas and their operations are always open to the rock thrower or the militant picket who may take it upon himself to discourage strikebreaking. A sympathy strike by the newly organized American Railway Union [297] with the workers in the Pullman shops led to a widespread suspension of railroad service in 1894. What stands out in this bitter clash is the sympathy that the losing struggle generated among thousands of railroad workers. The refusal of the Pullman Co. to discuss the restoration of a wage cut with its employees was interpreted as an example of corporate arrogance. Like 1877, 1894 was a depression year, and many workers were without a job or income.

The strike started in May, and the American Railway Union, meeting in convention the following month, sought to bring about a settlement of the differences. When the American Railway Union imposed its boycott upon Pullman equipment, its action was challenged by the General Manager's Association, made up of the executives of the 24 railroads entering Chicago. Special guards were engaged, Federal marshals were appointed to keep the trains moving, and if an employee refused to handle Pullman equipment he was discharged. Attempts to operate with strikebreakers led to fearful resistance. Rioting was widespread, and at the request of the railroads and advice of Attorney General Richard Olney, Federal troops were sent to Chicago, over the protests of Governor John B. Altgeld. Every road west of Chicago felt the impact of the strike. Clashes between strikers and strikebreakers brought out Federal or State troops in Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado,] Oklahoma, and California. Although the loss of life and property was not as serious as during the disturbances of 1877, the Pullman strike affected a wider area. An estimated 34 people were killed and undetermined millions of dollars were lost in the rioting connected with this conflict. President Grover Cleveland claimed "that within the states of North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Washington, Wyoming, California, and the territories of Utah and New Mexico it was impracticable to enforce federal law by the ordinary course of judicial procedure. For this reason, he revealed, military forces were being used."29

The immediate cause of the violence was the determination of the General Manager's Association to defeat the sympathy strike. When the boycott of Pullman cars was announced, the association declared that the employees of the railroads had no right to punish the carriers nor impose hardships upon the traveling public. The association declared "it to be the lawful right and duty of said railway [298] companies to protect against said boycott, to resist the same in the interest of their existing contracts, and for the benefit of the traveling public, and that we will act unitedly to that end."30 The extension of support by the union brought forth the support of the carriers for the Pullman Co. It is however, as has been noted, extremely difficult to avoid disorders in a strike in an industry whose operations are carried on over an open and extensive area. Any occurrence can attract hundreds and even thousands of people who because of sympathy or search for excitement or loot can expand a simple incident into a large-scale riot. The chief inciters to violence were not known, and the police and the officers of the railroads did not agree on whether union members or city toughs were the chief promoters of the turmoil.

The Federal Government hired marshals in numerous railroad centers to protect the property of the carriers. Attorney General Richard Olney stated that the extra funds expended for this purpose by the Federal Government amounted to at least $400,000.31

The responsibility for violence rests largely on the behavior of George Pullman. His attitude was similar to those held by many industrialists. He was unwilling to allow his workers the slightest influence upon the decisions of the company which greatly affected their welfare. Like other firms, the Pullman Co. was suffering losses of business as a result of the depression, and it may not have been able to meet the demands of its employees. It could, however, have conferred in good faith and explained its position instead of following a policy of peremptory rejection and dismissal of those who had asked for a reconsideration of a wage cut. Pullman's attitude, shared by many industrialists, tells us something about the cause of violence in labor disputes. Arrogant, intransigent, unwilling to meet with their employees, owners depended upon their own or the Government's power to suppress protest. Behind the powerful shield they could ignore the periodic outbreaks by their labor force; they knew that these seldom were strong enough to gain victory. [299]

5. Streetcar Strike in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Homestead, the Coeur d'Alene, and Pullman are large markers in the record of industrial disputes. Violence also erupted in a number of less significant disputes. Local authorities were quick to call for help from the state in the face of labor disputes, and Governors frequently answered their summons. For example, in Brooklyn, New York, District Assembly No. 75 Knights of Labor and the Brooklyn City Railroad Co. had established collective-bargaining relations in 1886, and annually renewed the agreement. Negotiations broke down in 1895 and the company turned to strikebreakers. "Men came from all parts of the country and as a result the railroad companies were able entirely to reorganize their working staffs."32 When the strikers sought to interfere with operations, 7,500 State troops were sent into the city at the request of the mayor. Cars began operating under military protection on January 22. Two soldiers rode on each car. In one encounter, shots were exchanged among strikers, strikebreakers, and troops; one man was killed and a number wounded.33

6. Coal Miners' Strike

Three separate incidents involving coal-mining violence illustrate the fragility of peaceful methods in this industry. In two of the three cases, the use of force did not end in failure, but there were exceptional circumstances in each. Much depended upon the attitude of the authorities and the sympathies of the public. Free miners in Tennessee were able to control changes in the system of working convict labor in the coal mines. Leasing of convicts for work in the mines was begun in 1865, and the competition of these men, who had no influence on their working conditions or pay, was a threat to the free miners. Other grievances also played a role. Payment of wages by scrip, absence of checkweighmen at the mines, and the use of yellow dog contracts were sources of protest. When the free miners went on strike in 1891 the companies introduced convict labor as replacements. On July 21, 1891, hundreds of armed miners demanded that convict workers leave the mining camps at Briceville and Coal Creek. State troops [300] were ordered into the area, but the governor agreed to the discontinuance of convict labor in the mines.34

Violence was also a factor in the settling of the coal miners' strikes in Alabama in 1894. A month after the strike started, miners in Johns, Adger, and Sumpter were ordered to leave the company houses. The company "strategy in breaking the strike was to import Negro labor to work in the mines. During the strike's first week, 100 Negroes were brought from Kansas."35 On May 7, 1894, a band of armed men invaded the Price mine at Horse Creek "blowing up boilers, burning supplies and destroying property." On July 16, in a gunfight at Slope, 5 miles from Birmingham, three Negro strikebreakers and a deputy were killed. Troops were ordered into the area by the governor and remained there until August 14, when the strike was settled.38

In 1897, the United Mine Workers of America tried again to establish itself as the bargaining agent for the bituminous coal miners. Despite the UMW low fortunes and virtual lack of resources, a national strike was called on July 4. Although unsuccessful in West Virginia, the union was able to establish bargaining rights in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania. The central competitive field agreement was developed, which aimed at a wage scale which would allow operators from all of the above regions to operate on the basis of rough equality. Not all operators were willing to go along with the arrangement. The Pana Coal Co., which had refused to accept the agreement, tried to operate with Negro strikebreakers. A report indicated that an additional carload was on the way, resulting in armed miners halting a train and removing the strikebreakers. No harm befell them; they were sent home. Governor John B. Tanner sent a company of National Guardsmen to Pana with instructions not to assist the company to operate its mines.

More serious was the outcome of the attempt of the Chicago-Virden Coal Co., Virden, Ill., to carry on operations with strikebreakers. On October 12, 1898, the company attempted to land a carload of strikebreakers. A report of the company's intention had reached the strikers, and many of them lined the sides of the tracks carrying loaded rifles. However, the train did not attempt to discharge its cargo at the railroad station, but moved ahead [301] to a stockade. Shots had been exchanged between the miners and the occupants of the car, and when the car reached the stockade, guards firing rifles rushed out. In the exchange of fire 14 men, eight of them strikers, were killed and a number of others wounded. Governor Tanner denounced the company and sent National Guardsmen to Virden. They restored order, and prevented a group of strikebreakers from landing in the city the day after the riot.37 The two recalcitrant companies eventually signed the central competitive agreement, but without the support of the Governor the outcome might have been different.

These coal strikes were exceptional in that the use of force did not fatally injure the union. As the full chronicle of labor disputes demonstrates, violence was rarely a successful union weapon, despite the fact that it was ordinarily a defensive measure employed against guards or strikebreakers who were attempting to destroy the effectiveness of a strike.

The importance of public opinion in supporting labor's side of a dispute has seldom won for unions the help or neutrality of public authorities in a context of labor violence. In the strike against convict labor, the Governor had and exercised his power to eliminate the cause of the strike. In the Illinois coal strike, the coal companies had broken ranks with other employers by refusing the terms of a negotiated agreement. Moreover, the violence was directed against armed outsiders who were brought into the community to replace local miners. But as the next section shows, in general, violence in labor disputes was likely to lead to repression by public force.

7. A Return to Coeur d'Alene

A completely different outcome followed the second act of the Coeur d'Alene story. In 1892, the union signed all of the companies except the Bunker Hill and Sullivan, which over the years remained a holdout. In the spring of 1899, Edward Boyce, president of the Western Federation of Miners, visited the area and began a campaign to bring that company into line.

In April 1899, a Northern Pacific train was seized at Burke, Idaho. At Gem, where the engineer was compelled to stop, dynamite was loaded on the train. Others joined the [302] train at Wallace, and the engineer was then ordered to switch his train onto the tracks of the Oregon Northern Railroad and proceed to Wardner. Masked men got off the train, proceeded to the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mill and, after dispersing the guards, destroyed the mill, inflicting damages of about a quarter of a million dollars. Governor Frank Steunenberg, on learning of these events, requested Federal aid, the Idaho National Guard being on duty in the Philippines.

Federal troops were dispatched and the State auditor, Bartlet Sinclair, was directed by the Governor to take command. He jailed every member and sympathizer of the union that could be found. All were, in his opinion, morally guilty of the dynamiting. Makeshift jails were used until the prisoners had constructed a stockade where they were lodged. Local officials sympathetic to the miners were removed, and others friendly to the company replaced them. Sinclair was determined to root out the Western Federation of Miners. A permit system was instituted under which applicants for work were required to repudiate the union by agreeing that it was a criminal conspiracy. Protests to the Secretary of War by Samuel Gompers and others brought orders to the commanding Federal general not to meddle in union affairs. But Sinclair was in charge of that phase, and he was acting under the orders of Governor Steunenberg.

The secretary of the Burke local union was tried for conspiracy to murder and was convicted and sentenced to prison. Ten others were convicted of interfering with the U.S. mail. Most of the miners were kept in the bullpen until November 1899, but the military occupation of the district continued until April 1901, when a new State administration ended it. The miners' leaders imprisoned by the State were also pardoned, but the union never regained its vigor in the Coeur d'Alene area. The violence against the company boomeranged; it did not serve the union's interest.

In Coeur d'Alene the attack on the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mill was an attempt to compel a company to accept a union contract, but the aggressive invasion and destruction was one that no Governor could tolerate. Governor Steunenberg, who was to be killed by a bomb 8 years later, had little option except to act against those who seized a train and dynamited property. His prior background was [303] not on its face antilabor. He had had the support of the Western Federation of Miners in his campaign for the governorship, and he boasted that he was a member of the International Typographical Union. However, he might have been less severe and avoided arresting and imprisoning many innocent miners. The lesson that can be derived from the episodes in the Coeur d'Alene area is that violence is a risky tactic for those who need public tolerance if not public support in behalf of their demands, no matter how just or righteous their cause.38


The first decade of the 20th century witnessed expansion of union membership, which increased opportunities for conflicts with employers. As in previous periods, strikes were on occasion marked by violence. The prospect of violence was heightened by rising employer resistance to union objectives. The signs of this new employer response consisted of the founding of many employer associations, the beginning of the open-shop campaign, and the use of Citizen Alliances as assault troops on union picket lines.

1. Pennsylvania Anthracite Coalfields

Violence in Illinois and in the Coeur d'Alene was carried out primarily by native or Americanized workers. Through the 1870's the Pennsylvania anthracite area was dominate by English-speaking workers: Americans, English, Scotch, Irish, and Welsh were the principal sources of labor.39 By 1900, large numbers of Eastern and Southern Europeans had come into the area, and the English-speaking ratio in the population had dropped from 94 percent in 1880 to 52 percent in 1900.40 With the destruction of the Knights of Labor and the Amalgamated Association of Anthracite Miners, no offset to the companies' power existed. Absence of checkweighmen, the existence of the company store, and the complete domination of the area by the coal companies were unrestrained evils. Nothing better demonstrates the abuse of power than an attack in 1897 upon miners who had struck against the high prices at the company store and were peacefully marching from Hazleton to Latimer. The sheriff and a force of deputies met the marchers on the road and ordered them to disperse. When they failed to [304] obey instantly, the sheriff ordered his deputies to fire on the unresisting paraders. Eighteen were killed and 40 seriously wounded. Many of the killed and wounded were shot in the back. The sheriff and several deputies were tried for murder but were acquitted.41

In 1900, the United Mine Workers of America was able to challenge successfully the anthracite coal operators. Although the union had only about 7 percent of the miners in the area in the organization, it called a strike in September of 1900. There was only one serious clash between strikers and guards, which led to the death of a strikebreaker. Immediately 2,400 troops were sent into the area by the Governor. The strike was settled on terms not unfavorable to the union, and the single violent encounter played no role in the outcome.42 Peace in the anthracite mines was brought about by political pressure but also by the skillful leadership of John Mitchell, the president of the United Mine Workers. Mitchell had always deplored the use of violent methods and constantly pleaded for negotiations as a peaceful means of settling labor disputes. He further recognized the importance of retaining public sentiment on the strikers' side, and he was determined to prevent the use of widespread prejudice against the Southern European immigrant worker to defeat them. This strike was, however, only a skirmish; the anthracite workers were to face a more serious trial 2 years later.

When negotiations between the operators and the union broke down in April 1902, it appeared that the strike would be more violent than the preceding one. A more aggressive spirit was evident among the men, and the companies appeared to be equally determined to scotch further progress of the union. Hundreds of commissions for iron and coal police to guard mining property were issued, and the companies decided to recruit strikebreakers and operate during the strike. An attack on a colliery at Old Forge on July 1 resulted in the killing of a striker; another was killed at Duryea the next day. Shootings and assaults became more common as the strike dragged on, and at the end of July the Governor ordered two regiments to Shenandoah, where the town was literally taken over by rioters. In this community a merchant suspected of supplying ammunition to deputies was beaten to death, and deputies and strikebreakers were assaulted. On August 18, troops were sent [305] to Carbon County after a coal and iron policeman killed a striker. Trestles and bridges were dynamited and non-strikers assaulted. The Governor, in September, sent troop into the three anthracite counties. Violence did not abate. On September 28, a striker was killed, and later in the day, 700 strikers assaulted and wrecked the Mount Carmel office of the Lehigh Valley Coal Co. and seized the roads leading to the colliery. In a summary of violence at the end of September, the New York Tribune claimed that in the disturbances arising out of the strike, 14 had been killed, l6 shot from ambush, 42 others severely injured, and 67 aggravated assaults had occurred; 1 house and 4 bridges were dynamited, 16 houses, 10 buildings, 3 washrooms around mines, and 3 stockades were burned; 6 trains were wrecked, and there were 9 attempted wrecks, 7 trains attacked, and students in 14 schools went on strike against teachers whose fathers or brothers were working during the strike.43

Despite the extent of violence, it is doubtful whether it had any decisive effect on the outcome of the strike. In insisting that the strikers were prevented from working because of union intimidation, the operators claimed that the mines would be opened and fully manned if adequate protection were granted. The Governor of Pennsylvania sent the entire National Guard of the State into the anthracite area, but their presence did not increase the output of coal. This demonstration that the tieup was not the result of coercion but of the determination of the miners to bargain through a union ended the impasse.

What made the union victory possible was the conciliatory attitude of Mitchell. Firm on essentials, he was ready to compromise on details. Careful not to antagonize public opinion, he emphasized the justice of the miners' cause, the right of men to bargain collectively over the terms of employment. Although considerable violence developed during the second anthracite strike, none of it had the spectacular features of some of the battles in the Rocky Mountain area (see below). Mitchell and his subordinates always pleaded for peaceful behavior, and while the advice was often honored in the breach, neither he nor any other leaders could be attacked for advocating destruction of property or assaults upon persons which, had they done so, would have given employers a powerful argument with which to sway public sentiment. [306]

2. The Colorado Labor War

The use of force to settle differences was more common in the Western mining camps at the turn of the century than in Eastern manufacturing or even mining communities. In the West there was a tendency for violence to erupt on a larger scale. In 1894 Colorado's Governor, David M. Waite, ordered the dispersal of an army of company-employed deputies in a mining-labor dispute. Only the intervention of the troops prevented a battle between strikers and deputies.

Later, in 1901, after a successful walkout, the union miners deported a group of strikebreakers who had taken their jobs during the strike. The tendency for each side to resort to force to settle differences led to a gradual escalation of the level of violence, which reached a point where the Western Federation of Miners faced the combined power of the Mine Operator's Association, aided by the State government and a private employer's group, the militant Citizen's Alliance. It was an unequal struggle in which men were killed and maimed; union miners imprisoned in the bullpen; union halls, newspapers, and cooperatives sacked; and many strikers deported. There is no episode in American labor history in which violence was as systematically used by employers as in the Colorado labor war of 1903 and 1904. The miners fought back with a ferocity born of desperation, but their use of rifles and dynamite did not prevent their utter defeat.

The war opened in 1903. It started with a peaceful withdrawal from work in the Colorado City mill of the United States Reduction Refining Co., after demands for a wage increase and union recognition had been rejected. The strike quickly spread to the other mines and mills in the area. Although no reports of lawlessness had been made, the Governor sent in several companies of militia at the request of the sheriff. Although settlement was made, with the assistance of the Governor, the manager of the United States Reduction Refining Co. refused to accept its terms. District No. 1 of the Western Federation of Miners on August 3, 1903, called strikes in mines shipping ore to the refineries of the United States Reduction Refining Co. This was denounced by the Colorado Mine Owners Association as an "arbitrary and unjustifiable action" which "mars the [307] annals of organized labor, and we denounce it as an outrage against both the employer and the employee."44

The association announced that it was determined to operate without the cooperation of the federation and, in response to a plea from the operators, State troops were sent to Teller County, where Cripple Creek was located, on September 3, 1904. At the same time a strike for shorter hours was going on in Telluride, and troops were sent into that area, although no reports of trouble were published. Active union men were arrested through September, lodged in a bullpen for several days, and then released. The rnility officers took umbrage at an editorial in the Victor Record, and arrested its staff, who were held for 24 hours in the bullpen before they were released.45

The first significant violence attributed to the strikera was the blowing up of the Vindicator mine in Teller County, in which two were killed. Martial law was declared in Teller County and the military informed the editor of the Victor Herald that editorial comments would be censored. When the union secured a writ of habeas corpus directing the military to bring an arrested miner before a State courts the Governor suspended the writ "on the ground of military necessity."46 Deportations of strikers were begun, and temporarily halted by an order from a State court. The military obeyed this court order. When 16 men were killed by the fall of a cage at the Independence mine at Victor, bitter feeling increased. Violation of safety rules was blamed by the union for the accident.

By February 2, 1904, conditions in Teller County were sufficiently close to normal for the Governor to withdraw troops. The mining companies then put into effect a "rustling-card" system that required applicants for employment in mines and smelters to obtain a card authorizing them to seek work. Each time a person changed jobs he had to procure a new card, which gave the mining companies an opportunity to blacklist all who did not meet their standards. The strike dragged on, and on June 6, 1904, while nonunion miners were returning from work, a charge of dynamite exploded under the Independence railroad station, killing 13 and seriously wounding 16. After the explosion, the Citizen's Alliance went into action. County and city officials sympathetic to the union were forced to resign, and a roundup of union members and sympathizers [308] started. They were placed in a bullpen, and many of them were later deported to Kansas and New Mexico. The commander of the militia, General Sherman Bell, set up a commission to decide the fate of the prisoners held in the bullpen. A person's attitude towards the Western Federation of Miners determined whether he would be released or deported. On July 26, 1904, the Governor ended military rule and left the field to the Citizen's Alliance. During its tenure, since June 8, the commission examined 1,569 men, recommending 238 for deportation and 42 for trial in the criminal courts; the rest were released from the bullpen.47 Gradually, normal conditions were restored, but the union continued its nominal strike until December 1907, when it was called off.48

Simultaneously with the Cripple Creek strike, the union was directing another in the San Juan area of Telluride County, Colo. The same scenario was played here. Troops were sent into the area soon after the calling of the strike in September 1903. Censorship, deportations, and arrests accompanied the troops. The union fought a losing battle, and the Telluride Miner's Association announced it would never employ members of the Western Federation of Miners. When the resistance of the strikers was broken, the Governor withdrew the State troops, but by that time the Citizen's Alliance could itself handle deportations and assaults.49

The effect of this organized violence upon the miner's organization is summarized by Sheriff Edward Bell of Teller County, and a leader in the campaign against that union. After the assaults and deportations had broken the back of the resistance, the sheriff announced:

The danger is all past. There are less than 100 of the radical miners left in the Cripple Creek district. The rest have been deported, or have left the district because they were unable to gain employment. They can never get work again. The mine owners have adopted a card system by which no miner can gain admittance to a mine unless he has a card showing that he does not belong to a union.60

The miners were no easy victims. They resisted as well as they could, but they faced the overwhelming power of the mine operators aided by the business community, the Governor, and the courts.51 [309]

3. A Collection of Strikes: Two Teamster, Two Seamen, and One Sawmill Workers' Strike

In 1901 a citywide teamsters strike took place in San Francisco that had the backing of the waterfront unions. The dispute started over demands for exclusive employment of union members at one of the companies, and eventually involved all the draying employees in the city. An attempt to replace the strikes was made, and trucks and nonunion drivers were mercilessly assaulted. A number of business groups pleaded with the Governor for State troops, but he refused to grant the requests. The violence continued to the end of a strike in which five persons were killed and assult victims were said to exceed 300. Notwithstanding the violence, the strike ended in a compromise favoring the employers.52

The Chicago teamsters' strike was one of the more violent of the decade. Although it lacked the dramatic confrontations typical of the Western mining camps, the strikers' constant clashes with strikebreakers, guards, and police resulted in a number of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and the arrest of 1,108 persons. The teamsters' strike startei on April 6, 1905, as a sympathetic walkout in defense of a small union of clothing cutters. It lasted 106 days and involved 4,500 out of the more than 38,000 union teamsters in Chicago. During the strike, 1,763 special police men were added to the Chicago police department. The sheriff of Cook County employed 913 extra deputies, and an additional 4,157 unpaid deputies were recruited for strike duty, largely from the business community. The police department reported that 14 deaths and 31 injuries were caused by firearms; there were 202 other casualties. The police brought 930 cases against strikers, and 178 against nonunion men who had been arrested. Constant demands were made upon the Governor for State troops, and the President of the United States was asked to send Federal aid. Both requests were rejected. Strikebreakers were brought from other cities, and professional strike guards and police rode the wagons delivering goods to boycotted firms. The entire business community was united against the union, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to fight the walkout. In the end, the union was forced to surrender without attaining any of its demands. [310] It was a serious loss which had repercussions within the teamster's union as well as the Chicago labor movement.53

After dealing with the International Seamen's Union for a number of years, the Lake Carriers' Association, a group of ship operators, decided to end its union relationships. In 1908, it inaugurated a welfare plan, a continuous discharge book containing a record of the holder's performance aboard ship, and a program of benefits for those killed in service. The agreement with the union was not signed and active union men were denied employment. When the 1909 session opened, the union called a strike. It lasted for the next 3 years, and encounters between pickets and strikebreakers and guards took place in most of the Great Lakes ports. Five pickets were reported to have been killed, and many injured on both sides.54

In the May 1906 strike of the Sailor's Union of the Pacific, two men working on the vessel Fearless were killed in Gray's Harbor, Wash., by strikers led by the union agent, William Gohl, who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to prison. A crew working in Portland, Oreg., on a struck vessel was assaulted by a gang led by the union agent. During the same year, a strike of sawmill workers in Humboldt, Calif., resulted in a number of clashes between strikers and workers, in which two were killed and many injured.55

4. Minor Disputes: Seven Streetcar Strikes

Many disputes in this period took place which failed to attract national attention because of the fewer numbers of employees involved and the smaller economic importance of the firms. The significance of these minor strikes lies not only in their demonstrations of the ease with which violence arose in the industrial arena, but in the dispersion of violence in virtually every part of the country. No region or industry can claim a monopoly on violent confrontation, although labor disputes in some industries were more susceptible to the exercise of force.

Strikes in municipal transportation services were often accompanied by riots and general disorder.56 Attempts to replace strikers by operating with new employees could easily lead to rioting, because surface cars often passed through neighborhoods which strongly supported the [311] strikers. Disturbances on open streets could also be joined by sympathizers and even uninvolved seekers of excitement. During the 1901 transit strike in Albany, N.Y., the sheriff asked for troops. They remained in the city between May 14 and 18, and the Adjutant General reported "three persons were shot . . . who were guarding a car, they having been assailed by a mob that had quickly gathered. . . " The following year the Governor of Rhode Island sent troops to Pawtucket to help escort vehicles through jeering crowds. Troops arrived on June 11,1902, and aided deputy sheriffs who had fired at missile-throwing crowds. "Martial law was declared on June 13 and the troops began to clean streets of all crowds, and forced the closing of doors and windows on the streets on which cars were operated."57 The same year the Governor of Louisiana ordered troops to New Orleans to help put down the rioting connected with the streetcar strike. The troops remained in the city for a month.58

During the 1903 strike of streetcar men in Waterbury, Conn., troops were sent by the Governor to "aid the civil authorities in suppressing whatever disorder might occur on account of the strike trouble."59 Troops left on February 4, 1903, and when the streetcars resumed operations without the protective shield of the troops, trouble again started. On March 8, 1903, a special policeman on a streetcar was killed by a revolver shot. Eight strikers and a boy were arrested and tried for murder; they were acquitted.60 A successful effort to break the union of transit workers in San Francisco brought with it considerable violence. Strikebreakers opened fire on pickets, and "some twenty men were wounded, five it was said, mortally." The head of the surface lines explained: "We are going to establish the open shop on the California street line." At the same time, the company was anxious to retain the older employees. "But we will deal with them individually only," he explained.61

The issue in dispute on the Philadelphia transit lines was the continued existence of the local of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees, with which the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co. had an agreement. The union had been recognized in 1909 as a result of pressure by local politicians who wished to avoid a controversy in the midst of a municipal campaign for public offices. However [312] the company encouraged the establishing of the Keystone Carmen, a company-dominated union, and at the same time discharged 173 members of the regular labor organization. When no bargaining agreement was reached, the union called a strike, and the company countered by importing strikebreakers and guards under the direction of James Farley, a notorious street fighter and supplier of armed guards during strikes. In the first days of the strike, the police and private guards were helpless against mobs who roamed the streets wrecking cars and smashing windows; the company claimed 298 cars had been destroyed, and more than 2,000 windows broken. Much of the violence during the Philadelphia dispute was caused by traveling pickets and their sympathizers. The guards were, however, inured to violence and engaged in it themselves. In Philadelphia on March 8 "a band of 'strikebreakers,' men furnished by private detective agencies ... for temporary use, took a car down the crowded thoroughfare at high speed shooting into the crowds on the sidewalk and wounding several persons."62 Eventually the strike was settled with the abandonment of the legitimate union and the establishment of a company-dominated organization.63

A strike in Columbus, Ohio, in 1910 was also caused by the unwillingness of a rapid transit company to deal with a union established in that year. Intervention by the State board of arbitration resulted in a temporary agreement, but it was ended by a union charge of bad faith after the company discharged a number of union men. Many members of the police force refused to ride on the streetcars and protect strikebreakers. The "first few days of the strike was attended with riots from the downtown streets in which men were pulled from cars and beaten, cars stoned, trolley ropes and wires cut."64 The company imported 450 trained guards and strikebreakers from Cleveland, and the strike "settled down to guerrilla warfare. Cars have been stoned and dynamited in all parts of the city; attempts have been made to blow up car houses where non-union members are quartered and the public intimidated from riding by systematic picketing and boycotting."65 At the request of the local authorities, troops were sent into the city on July 28, 1910. "While enroute to Columbus, a sympathizer of the lawless conditions in Columbus deliberately wrecked [313] the first section of the Fourth Infantry train."66 A number of men were injured. The violence subsided after the arrival of troops, and service was resumed.

5. Three Strikes in the Clothing Industry

Two strikes in this period surrounded by considerable violence ended with the recognition of the unions involved. In New York City the International Ladies' Garmen Workers' Union was able to win collective-bargaining rights in the New York market after two strikes, each in a different branch of the industry. On November 22, 1909, almost 20,000 workers in the dress and waist industry, the large majority of whom were young women, went out on strike. The walkout lasted until February 15, 1910. During the strike, 771 pickets were arrested, of whom 19 were given jail terms in the workhouse and 248 fined. The pickets, on the other hand, complained that they were victims of repeated assaults by the police and hired sluggers of the employers. The union charges were supported by a number of social workers who joined in union complaints to the mayor. The settlement of the strike was followed by the cloak-maker's walkout, involving more than 50,000 workers. In this strike both sides engaged in considerable violence. The employers engaged dozens of private guards, and the union countered by hiring its own strong-arm men. During one encounter a private detective engaged by one of the employers was killed; several union members were tried for the offense but were acquitted.67 This strike was successful and marked the beginning of permanent collective bargaining in the ladies' garment industry in New York. Pressures to reach an agreement came from sources outside the industry, including the Jewish community, which found the internecine struggle between Jewish employers and employees highly distasteful.

A much more violent encounter was the strike of the men's clothing workers in Chicago during the same year. Beginning on September 22, 1910, as a protest against a cut in rates paid for the stitching of seams, the strike spread and eventually involved virtually all of the-40,000 workers employed in the Chicago market. The United Garment Workers of America, the union with jurisdiction in the trade, took over direction of the walkout, but the industry was unwilling to deal with a labor organization. Police were [314] active in breaking picket lines, and considerable violence ensued. On December 4, the first picket was killed, and another 11 days later. A private detective escorting strikebreakers was killed in the first days of January, and before the strike ended four others were killed. The strike lasted 133 days, during which 874 arrests were made, mostly of union pickets or their sympathizers. It succeeded in gaining union recognition from Hart, Schaffner & Marx, one of the leading firms in the Chicago market, recognition which was later expanded to the entire industry. The Hart, Schaffner & Marx decision to accept collective bargaining in large part arose from one partner's strong personal distaste of the violence generated in this dispute.68

6. Three Pennsylvania Strikes

These strikes in Pennsylvania, in 1909-10, were all spontaneous, unorganized walkouts. A reduction in pay was the cause of the strike of steel workers in the plant of the Pressed Steel Car Co. of McKee's Rock, Pa., in July of 1909. In August the IWW entered the leaderless strike and sent its general organizer, William Trautman, to aid the strikers. Trautman had been active in the Brewery Worker's Union before the launching of the IWW and he was an experienced labor organizer. The strikers, mostly German, Polish, and Hungarian immigrants, were not concerned with the philosophy of the IWW as much as assistance in conducting a walkout. After the strike was called the Pennsylvania constabulary arrived, and killed a striker during August. Soon thereafter a deputy sheriff was murdered by a group of pickets when he refused to leave a streetcar as directed. By the end of the strike, 11 strikers and 2 deputies had been killed. A committee from the U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony that men were forcibly kept in stockades, and in the cars in which they arrived --

there was an armed guard at each end of the car, and [passengers were] not allowed to leave the train, and when they got in the camp they were forced to work there by the deputies of the car companies, the car companies being authorized by the sheriff to appoint whatever deputies they choose. [Men were] forced to work there at the point of a gun by men armed with blackjacks.69

The experience in the Westmoreland County coal area was somewhat different. Although the coal miners were [315] unaffiliated with a union, the United Mine Workers of America was anxious to bring these workers into its ranks. As soon as the strike began, trouble arose with police officers. "Conflicts between peace officers and the strikers," noted a congressional committee:

were numerous during the strike; in fact, were a matter of daily occurrence. Most of the police officers were deputy sheriffs or constables and many of both classes came from other counties and other states. The coal companies hired them and boarded them. . . . The deputies and constables paraded the highways and in many cases, it is claimed, treated the strikers with undue severity. They were armed with pistols and clubs or blackjacks and many of them were mounted. Many strikers were attacked by the deputies or constables on the road and when parties of strikers were met, the mounted officers often dispersed them by beating them or riding them down .... Many strikers were severely beaten by the deputies and constables, even when they were not near the mines or mine villages.70
The committee observed that the deputies and constables were not well disciplined and that they acted with needless brutality. Six strikers and sympathizers were killed, and two strikebreakers and a deputy sheriff also perished.

The third unorganized strike, at the steel mill of the Bethlehem Steel Co. at South Bethlehem, Pa., followed the dismissal of a committee protesting the discharge of a machinist for evading Sunday work. It was, at first, an unorganized walkout, but the metal and building trades organized a majority of those who had left their jobs. On February 26, 1910, the State constabulary arrived, and on their way to the office of the company, the constabulary "assaulted a number of people standing peaceably on the street . . . and they shot down an innocent man .... who was standing in the Majestic Hotel when one of the troopers rode up to the pavement at the hotel door and fired two shots into the barroom." To pleas for recognition of the union, President Charles M. Schwab said: "It must be understood that under no circumstances will we deal with men on strike or a body of men representing organized labor."71 All three of the strikes failed.

7. Special Police

In Pennsylvania, every railroad in 1865 and every colliery, iron furnace, or rolling mill in 1866 was granted by statute liberty to [316] employ as many policemen as it saw fit, from such persons as would obey its behests, and they were clothed with all authority of Pennsylvania, were paid such wages and armed with such weapons as the corporation determined -- usually revolvers, sometimes Winchester rifles or both -- and they were commissioned by the governor.72

Appointments under the Coal and Iron Police Act were made without difficulty. Corporations would file requests, and as a rule no investigation of the need for such appointments or restrictions on the behavior of those selected were made. In 1871 a fee of $1 was charged for each commission issued. From then until 1931, when the coal and iron police were abolished, the mining companies of Pennsylvania were able to utilize police under their own control in labor disputes. "There was no investigation, no regulation, no supervision, no responsibility undertaken by the State, which had literally created 'islands' of police power which was free to float as the employers saw fit."73 The Pennsylvania system was not duplicated elsewhere. In its stead, in other States sheriffs, and other local officials were authorized to appoint persons paid by the employer for strike and other private police duty.

On numerous occasions mercenaries were guilty of serious assaults upon the person and rights of strikers, and their provocative behavior was frequently an incitement to violence and disorder. Their presence, when added to the special deputies and company policemen and guards, increased substantially the possibility of sanguinary confrontations in strike areas.74 Furthermore, the availability of private police figured in many events which have been ignored in American labor history. These would include the expulsion of organizers from a county, the forceful denial to union organizers of the opportunity to speak in company towns, and the physical coercion of individual employees because of their union affiliation or sympathies.

8. Use of Troops Under Peaceful Conditions

As we have seen, outbreaks of labor violence frequently required the intervention of State troops, whose activities in restoring order usually resulted in defeating the strike. This lesson was not lost to some employers who, with the connivance of local public officials, secured military aid in situations where violence was absent or insignificant. [317] During the general strike of silk workers in Paterson, N.J., in 1902, it was claimed that the mills faced an attack by a mob. At the request of the sheriff, troops were sent to the city on June 19. They found no disorder, and left aftet 9 days.75

A more flagrant instance of misrepresentation took place in the Goldfield, Nev., dispute between the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the craft unions. Trouble started when the IWW announced that members of the carpenter's union would have to join the IWW by March 7 "or be thrown off the job and run out of town. The carpenters did not submit their applications, but did carry guns to work on the morning of March 7. The IWW in the face of this armed opposition was to call off all the helpers from the jobs where A.F. of L. men were employed."76 Tension increased, and at the request of the Governor, President Theodore Roosevelt sent Federal troops to Goldfield. The President also appointed a commission to investigate the disturbance. It said:

The action of the mine operators warrants the belief that they had determined upon a reduction in wages and the refusal of employment to members of the Western Federation of Miners, but that they feared to take this course of action unless they had the protection of Federal troops and that they accordingly laid a plan to secure such troops and then put their program into effect." The commission found no basis for the statement that "there was a complete collapse of civil authority here."78

[On the] question of deportation, the evidence sustains at the very maximum probably 25 cases in the last two years. Last March an acute labor dispute existed, lasting some weeks, in which the city was practically an armed camp . . . the best evidence indicates the number with arms is no greater than commonly found in mining camps. Representatives of trades in American Federation of Labor here all agree that practically no members of their crafts have felt any occasion to carry arms since the acute conditions of last March. Our investigation so far has completely failed to sustain the general and sweeping allegations in the governor calling for troops, and the impression as to conditions here given in that call is misleading and without warrant.79

The same course of events took place in two other widely separate cases. In a strike at the National Fireproofing plant at Raritan, N. J., troops were sent during a strike in November 1908. Although no violent incident or threats had been made, the sheriff asked the Governor to send troops. His request was met, but they stayed only a few days. It may be that the sheriff feared that violence would follow, [318] since the strikers were mostly Poles, Hungarians, and other Southern Europeans.80 At almost the same time, State troops were summoned to a tunnel job in McCloud, Calif. The sheriff had informed the Governor that strikers had taken over the "powder house, undoubtedly for use as bombs or like service." The sheriff claimed the strikers threatened to kill anyone who went to work. Troops were sent and they helped the sheriff arrest the leaders of the strike. When this was accomplished, the troops left.81

9. Campaigns of Violence by Unions

Despite explicit repudiation of force as an accepted tactic, a number of unions pursued systematic campaigns against opponents. These campaigns were directed against workers who refused to join a given labor organization, against employers, or both. One such campaign was carried on by the Western Federation of Miners against mine managers, company agents, and public officials. Harry Orchard, a member of the federation, confessed to the commission of many crimes, including the murder of Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho on December 30, 1905, at the alleged orders of the chief union officers.

The outstanding example of a campaign of force is the one conducted by the International Association of Bridge Structural Iron Workers in the first decade of the century against some employers. When the National Erectors' Association decided in 1906 that it would no longer continue its agreement with the union, the latter turned to terror and dynamite. In the first few years of the open-shop fight, about 100 nonunion ironworkers and company guards were assaulted, three guards being killed. Between 1906 and 1911, about 100 structures were damaged or destroyed by charges of explosives.82 Luke Grant, who studied this episode for the Commission of Industrial Relations, concluded "that the dynamite campaign was ineffective as far as it was directed against the National Erectors' Association and that it weakened the influence of the organization with some independent employers." Others believed that the campaign kept the small contractors in line.83 Moreover, Grant was convinced that the dynamiting campaign did the union a great deal of harm. "It stirred the public mind as few labor wars have done."84 The "main reason for the resort [319] to dynamite is found in the uncompromising attitude of the open-shop employers. The American Bridge Co. offered to compromise in the early stages of the fight and the union representatives rejected the terms of the compromise." After that the attitude of the employers was unyielding. Every effort on the union side to bring about a conference after it realized the mistake that had been made, proved unavailing.

Without a conference, no settlement of the strike was possible. For the union it meant either unconditional surrender or a fight to the finish. There was no middle course open while the employers refused to confer. . . . When the hopelessness of the situation became apparent to the union officials, resort was made to the destruction of property. Diplomacy was out of the question, so dynamite was tried. It proved to be a colossal blunder, as was the rejection of the peace terms offered in the beginning of the fight.85

Elements within the Molders' Union also carried on aggressive attacks against employees, guards, and members of the National Founders Association in 1904. The union and the association had negotiated past agreements, but differences over apprentice ratios, piecework, and efficiency resulted in a break in relations in 1904. A series of strikes took place throughout the country and lasted from 1904 to 1907. The employers operated across picket lines nearly everywhere and the union response was predictable. According to the National Founders Association, violence occurred in Utica, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Glassport, Pa., Trenton, Milwaukee, Columbus, Chicago, Buffalo, Kansas City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Iola, Kansas, Detroit, Seattle, Rutland, Paterson, and Meadville, Pa.86 In these series of episodes, 400 affidavits of alleged union violence were obtained, 34 injunctions restraining violence were issued by state courts, and 32 contempt convictions of these orders were obtained. The most serious trouble took place in Milwaukee, where there were 22 contempt citations and 5 separate assault incidents. Two strikebreakers were killed in the course of the dispute.


These 6 years rank among the most violent in American history, except for the Civil War. Although the origins of violent encounters were not different from those in the past, [320] they frequently attained a virulence seldom equaled in industrial warfare in any nation. This was as true of many small disputes as it was of the major confrontations in Michigan copper and the West Virginia and Colorado coalfields.

1. The Illinois Central Shopmen's Strike

This strike differed from others in which serious violence took place in that union recognition was not the cause of the conflict. Single crafts had been recognized by this carrier for a number of years, but the carrier refused to negotiate a common contract with the system federation, a central body of several crafts. Following the establishment of the Railway Employees Department, the Illinois Central Railroad was requested, in June 1911, to deal jointly instead of singly with the Machinists', Steam Fitters', Railway Clerks', Blacksmiths', Boilermakers', and Sheet Metal Workers' Unions. The carrier refused, and a strike was called on the entire line of the Illinois Central. The railroad decided to replace the strikers. Violence was reported all along the right of way of the carrier. In Mississippi, one of the more important areas served by the Illinois Central, violence erupted at a number of points. When a train carrying strikebreakers arrived at McComb on October 3, 1911, it was met by about 250 armed men who opened fire on the new arrivals. Ten men were killed, cars were burned, and strikebreakers were afterward removed from the strike zone by militia called in by the Governor. Demonstrations against those working were also carried on. On January 17, 1912, five Negro laborers employed as helpers at McComb were fired upon while returning from work; three were killed, the others wounded. Strikebreakers were temporarily escorted out of the strike zone.87 The shops at Water Valley, Miss., were attacked and the Governor ordered troops to that community on October 6, 1911. Serious violence was reported in New Orleans and a company guard was killed at Athens, Tex., and a guard and strikebreaker at the Illinois Central roundhouse at Houston, Tex. In Clinton, Ill., Carl Person, a leader of the strike, killed a strikebreaker who had brutally assaulted him. Person was tried for murder and acquitted on the ground of [321] self-defense.88 Despite the strike's formal continuance until June 28, 1915, it was in effect lost within several months after its start.

2. Five IWW Strikes

Despite its temporary advocacy of direct action and sabotage, the strikes of the IWW were not particularly violent. In 1912-13, the IWW led two textile strikes in the East, and an affiliate, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, operating in Louisiana, struck for improved wages and in working conditions in the Louisiana timber area. An exchange of gunfire between pickets and guards before the Gallaway Lumber Co. at Grabow, La., resulted in the killing of three union men and a company guard. A score of others were wounded. Several companies of troops were sent into the area and remained 3 days. A clash between strikers and strikebreakers at Merryville, on November 14, brought State troops into the area. The trouble ceased with their arrival, and the business community was anxious that the troops remain. More than 1,000 men were on strike, and "the people in the area were mostly in sympathy with; the strike."89 It was, however, insufficient to help the strikers win. Several of the leaders were indicted for murder, but they were later acquitted.

The textile strike in Lawrence, Mass., including more than 25,000 workers, was the most important IWW-led strike and made a deep impression on contemporary observers.90 Refusal of employers to offset the loss of wages that followed the reduction of hours required for women workers by a recently enacted law was the cause of the walkout on January 11, 1912. As the workers belonged to no union, they invited the general organizer of the IWW, Joseph Ettor, to aid them. He succeeded in having specific demands formulated and presented to each employer of the strikers. Troops were sent into the city, and their number was increased as the strike continued. At the same time, the Governor of Massachusetts sought to have the State board of arbitration settle the dispute. The strikers were willing, but the American Woolen Co., the largest employer, refused to participate. A number of clashes between pickets and the militia took place, and in one a woman was killed. The strike continued until March 12, and was ended [322] by the offer of a wage increase. Although the strike was a victory for the textile workers, the IWW was unable to gain a permanent foothold in Lawrence or in the textile industry. While arrests are not necessarily a measure of strike violence, it is interesting that in Lawrence during the strike, more than 350 arrests were made. Several were sentenced to 2 years in prison; 24 to 1 year; and 22 were fined.

The third strike of the IWW, one which was almost equal to Lawrence in the public attention it attracted, took place in the silk mills of Paterson, N.J. The IWW capitalized on dissatisfaction which other organizations were unable to use to their advantage. A strike called against one of the large mills on February, 1, 1913, was later expanded to embrace all the silk mills and dye works. Mass arrests of pickets began quietly, early in the walkout, and the attorney for the IWW claimed that innocent strikers had been arrested. Many private detectives were employed by the firms on strike, and on April 18, a bystander was killed when between 16 and 20 shots were fired at pickets. There was considerable violence, much of it due to the behavior of the private guards and detectives hired by employers. The strike ended without victory after 22 weeks. During its course, 2,338 had been arrested, 300 held for the grand jury, and more than 100 sentenced to prison.91

While the IWW strikes in the East represented forays into geographical areas where the union had few members, the strike in the Wheatland, Calif., hop fields took place in the union's natural habitat. The workers in this strike were typical of the IWW membership. The strike began on August 13, 1913, as a spontaneous protest against the miserable conditions at the Durst brothers' ranch, where several thousand pickers had assembled awaiting the beginning of the season. Through extensive advertising, several thousand pickers had been attracted to the ranch in search of employment. Even by the standards prevailing in migrant-worker camps, living conditions were very bad there. Inadequate toilet facilities, charges for drinking water, absence of housing for many hundreds, and the low sanitary state of the campsite caused sufficient dissatisfaction that the migrants elected a negotiating committee. Richard Ford and Herman Suhr, members of the IWW, were on the committee. Demands for improvements in sanitation and an increase in the price of picking were made, and the [323] committee, headed by Ford and Suhr, met with one of the Durst brothers. Durst flicked his glove across Ford's face and rejected the demands. The resident constable then tried to arrest Ford. When a warrant was insisted upon, the constable left and returned with the district attorney of the county and several deputy sheriffs. An attempt to arrest Ford led to an argument which ended in general shooting. The district attorney, a deputy sheriff, and two hop pickers were killed. The next day the militia arrived, but quiet had already been restored.92 Ford and Suhr and two others were tried for murder, and the first two were convicted and sentenced to prison. The affair ended without improvements, although it stimulated a legislative investigation.

The IWW leadership of the spontaneous strike on the Mesabi iron range in Minnesota was by invitation, in that many of the strikers had been brought into the area in 1906 to replace predecessors who were then on strike against the same employers. Ten years later, in June 1916, the miners were sufficiently dissatisfied to go on strike. Early in July, a group of deputy sheriffs invaded a boardinghouse and tried to arrest one of the strikers. A fight started; a deputy and a passerby were killed and a striker wounded by gunfire. In the meantime, the U.S. Steel Corp., the major employer, would make no concessions nor meet with a strike committee. Eventually the strikers returned to work, having gained nothing. Three leaders of the walkout and several strikers were arrested and charged with murder. The IWW leaders were released and left the range, and several of the strikers were convicted and given prison terms.

Although IWW strikes were not unusually violent, the reputation of the IWW made its members an easy target for repressive action by the authorities, but the harsh treatment accorded to strikers was unrelated to the organization to which they belonged. Prof. Henry F. Grady, commenting on the killing of two pickets in the 1916 San Francisco longshoremen's strike, said that "neither of these murders were provoked. When the gunmen were brought to trial, Chamber of Commerce lawyers were there to defend them. The labor man sees no essential difference between the violence he may use to protect his right to work and the conditions which he claims fair, and the violence of an armed guard who is paid to oppose him."93 The strike was the result of the violation of contract by the longshoremen's [324] union. The action was denounced by U.S. Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson. The strike had serious repercussions for it served as a pretext for the launching of the open-shop campaign in San Francisco. In the defense of acts of terror against pickets, the open-shop forces claimed that 38 nonunion men had been assaulted and only six union men had suffered similar experiences.94

3. The Application of Public Force in Coal Disputes

(a) Strikes in which militia intervened. -- The appearance of State troops in a community during a labor dispute was generally, although not always, the result of threats of overt violence. In nearly all cases troops acted as a screen behind which it was easier to operate a struck plant. Furthermore, the presence of troops was likely to overawe if not intimidate strikers and their sympathizers. In 1911 State troops were ordered to Jacksonville, Fla., to prevent violence. They remained in the city from October 30 to November 21.95 During 1912 and 1913, the militia in New York was asked to intervene in three labor disputes. In April 1912, several companies were sent to Oneida, N.Y., during a textile strike in that city. They remained there for 13 days. In the following year, the troops were sent to Auburn while a textile strike was going on. In requesting troops, the local authorities claimed that "great disorder in the city and some shooting by the disorderly element . . . necessitated the calling out of troops. After their arrival, order was promptly restored."96

During a strike for union recognition, which the management of the Buffalo, N.Y., streetcar company refused to grant, strikebreakers and guards were brought to the city. Widespread rioting accompanied the protests against these imports. Troops were dispatched at the order of a county judge under a statute which made the county liable for the costs of bringing and maintaining the troops.97

In a strike in 1912 at the Consolidated Mining Co. in Ely, Nev., strikebreakers were imported and picketing violence developed.98 Two men were killed and two were wounded. Soon thereafter, Governor Taskie L. Odie declared martial law in the Robinson mining district, and directed the Nevada State Police superintendent to use his entire force to restore order. No further violence followed. [325]

A strike of unorganized steelworkers for a wage increase started at the East Youngstown, Ohio, plant of the Youngstown Sheet Tube Co. on January 5, 1916. Three days later a group of pickets was ordered to get off company property. They began to throw rocks at the guards who were herding them off the company property. The guards fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding 23 others. The riot spread and arson and looting followed. A hastily organized posse restored order, and the militia arrived on January 6. The strike ended with a compromise wage settlement.99

The attempt of the transit company in Indianapolis, Ind., to operate its streetcars during a strike with out-of-town strikebreakers led to a riot on November 2, 1913, in which a strikebreaker was killed.100 The Governor ordered 2,000 State troops into the city and their "mobilization caused a cessation of rioting and destruction of life and property and the Guardsmen were not actually used to quell the riots."101 Both sides agreed to arbitration.

(b) Local police action. -- Many violent incidents occurred in disputes in which the militia was not called. Clashes involving police officers or private guards were frequently destructive of life and property. During a parade of several hundred strikers on April 4, 1913, from Harmon, N.Y., to Mamaroneck, the police ordered the parade to disperse because they had no permit. A scuffle followed in which a marcher was killed and a guard seriously hurt.102 In a textile strike at Ipswich, Mass., the local police sought to disperse a picket line at a struck textile plant. When the strikers resisted, the police fired into the crowd, killing one woman striker and wounding seven others.103 When the unorganized workers in Rankin, Pa., in the plant of the American Steel & Wire Co. went on strike and set up a picket line, a group of deputy sheriffs fired into the picket line, killing one and wounding a number of others. The strike lasted 5 days, and the men returned on the company's terms.104 In the strike of the Empire Steel Co. at Mount Hope, N.J., an attack by armed strikers upon guards sworn in as deputy sheriffs led to the wounding of six of the guards, who left soon thereafter.105

In most of the reported cases, guards rather than strikers were likely to be the aggressors. During a strike at the Metuchen, N.J., plant of the American Agricultural Co., a body of strikers met an incoming train to discover if any [326] strikebreakers had arrived. When someone announced "No scabs had come," a number of guards ran toward the men and fired several rounds into their midst. Five were killed and many wounded. According to the "attending physicians, all the strikers' wounds were on the backs or legs which seems to indicate the deputies were on the aggressive." Twenty-two of the guards were arrested and nine subsequently convicted for manslaughter.106

A similar role was played by company guards during the strike of oil refinery workers in June 1915 at Bayonne, N.J. The strike began with the still cleaners employed by the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, and spread to employees of the Vacuum Oil Co. and the Tidewater Oil Co. On June 21, 1915, trouble started in front of the Standard Oil plant, and "guards were accused of 'sniping' from behind piles of lumber at different times."107 Before the battle ended, six had been killed and a number wounded. After the snooting, Sheriff E. F. Kincaid intervened and announced he did not "like the methods of wealth in employing gunmen and toughs to shoot defenseless men and women, any more than I like the methods of strikers destroying property."108 The sheriff arrested 129 guards, 10 of whom were held for the grand jury. He denounced the leaders of the strike, struck and arrested one of the volunteer organizers, and received assurance of a wage increase from the company.109

The sheriff's settlement was effective only for 1 year. On October 10, 1916, another spontaneous strike began at the plant of the Standard Oil Co. On the same day, four policemen and two strikebreakers were wounded by gunfire. The next day an angry mob of strikers surrounded the police station. On October 12, police and deputy sheriffs swept the Constable hill section where many of the strikers lived. Many were clubbed, shot, or herded into their homes; the police wrecked saloons in the strikers' neighborhood which remained open against orders to close. Four persons died from wounds. The strikers remained out for 2 weeks, and returned without the wage increase, the main demand of the strike.110

Violence was not limited to the eastern part of the country, although it appears to have been concentrated in that region during this period. However, among other bloody [327] affairs, two pickets during a lead miners' strike in Flat River, Mo., were shot by deputy sheriffs.

4. Three Major Labor Wars

(a) The Michigan copper strike. -- The strike in the Michigan copper district followed the refusal of the operators to confer with committees of the Western Federation of Miners; they would not even acknowledge a letter. As a result a strike was called on June 22, 1913. Clashes began almost simultaneously with the strike, and at the request of the sheriff of Houghton County, troops were sent by the Governor. Over 1,700 imported and local special deputy sheriffs were also appointed. By the middle of July two strikers were killed. A much greater tragedy took place at the Christmas party given to strikers' children in Calumet. Hundreds of children and parents attended, and when the hall was filled, an unknown voice yelled "fire." Panic broke out causing the loss of 72 lives, mostly children. Because Charles H. Moyer, the president of the Western Federation of Miners, rejected an offer of $25,000 for relief of the stricken families, offered by the Citizen's Alliance, he was assaulted and dragged through the streets of Hancock, where he was staying. Moyer was brought before James McNaughton, the president of Calumet & Hecla Copper Co., who slapped Moyer's face and threatened to have him hanged if he returned to the Michigan copper district. Moyer returned and was not molested. The strike, however, was not going well. The companies made a number of concessions and promised not to discriminate against strikers if they had not been guilty of lawlessness. The strike ended without union recognition.111

(b) West Virginia. -- The West Virginia and Colorado coal strikers were fought with an unrelenting fury that shocked the conscience of the country. Since 1897 the United Mine Workers of America had held contracts for the majority of bituminous coal miners, but union efforts to organize the expanding West Virginia mines failed a number of times after the beginning of the central competitive field agreement in 1898. Conscious that the failure to organize West Virginia constituted a serious threat to the union-held fields, the union sought greater recognition in the Paint Creek district, and a wage increase. Rejection [328] by the operators led to a strike on April 20, 1912. Later the miners in the Cabin Creek district joined the walkout.

Guards provided by the Baldwin-Felts detective agency entered the area in large numbers and began evicting strikers from company-owned houses. On June 5, the first miner was killed, and nine guards were indicted for murder. Miners and Baldwin-Felts guards fought a pitched battle at Mucklow, on July 26, in which 12 men, mostly guards, were killed. The Governor sent several companies of militia into the strike area, and arrests of strikers began. The military force was withdrawn at the end of 30 days, but with an increase in violence, it was reimposed on October 12. A military court was established which tried and sentenced strikers. Complaints by miners against the behavior of company guards led to the appointment of a citizens' commission by the Governor. It reported that company guards had been guilty of "denials of the right of peaceable assembly, free speech, many and grievous assaults on unarmed miners, and that their main purpose was to overawe the miners and their adherents, and if necessary beat and cudgel them into submission."112 The commission also charged that the miners were not entirely innocent and it held that their efforts to bring the West Virginia area under union control was an important cause of the troubles.

The mines were reopened in September with the assistance of imported workmen. Sporadic violence continued, with the tent colonies housing the dispossessed miners as a target. On February 7, 1913, an armored Chesapeake Ohio train, the "Bull Moose Special," attacked the tent colony in Holly Grove and poured more than 200 shots into the village. Quinn Morton, the general manager of the Imperial Co. who was in charge of the train, was accused of saying: "We will go back and give them another round." When testifying before a committee of the U.S. Senate, Morton was asked if he, "a cultured gentleman, approves the use of a machine gun on a populous village." In retaliation, an armed contingent of miners moved towards Mucklow, and fought a battle with guards in which 12 miners and 4 guards were killed. Martial law was then declared for the third time. The U.S. Senate committee criticized the denial of the rights of the miners, but it held the union was not blameless for the tragedy in the coalfields. A new Governor was elected in 1912, and in April [329] 1913 he proposed a compromise, which the union hesitantly accepted. A few concessions were made, but the union was not recognized and soon dispersed.

(c) War in Colorado. -- The Colorado coal industry was virtually nonunion. A number of efforts to establish collective-bargaining relations had been made, but all failed. In 1913 the United Mine Workers of America tried again and Frank J. Hayes, vice president of the union, came to Colorado and enlisted the aid of Governor Elias Ammons towards obtaining a conference with the mine operators. The Governor tried and failed. Further efforts to gain a conference were made by the union, and when they did not succeed a strike was called on September 25, 1913. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 miners left their jobs, and they and their families left their company-owned houses for the tent colonies which the union rented. In the meantime the companies had been preparing for the strike. "Spies, camp marshals and armed guards infested the mining camps and the city of Trinidad. In Huerfano County alone, 326 men, many imported from other states, had been commissioned as deputy sheriffs."113

Before the strike, a union organizer had been shot by a detective employed by the Colorado Fuel Iron Co. A marshal employed by the same company was killed on September 24. On October 7, 1913, after an exchange;, of shots between strikers and guards, the latter attacked the tent colony at Ludlow and killed a miner. On October 17, a party of mine guards attacked the tent colony at Forbes, killing a miner and wounding a young boy. Three strikers were shot and killed and one was wounded at Walsenberg several days later when a group of guards fired into a striker's meeting. On the following day, a battle was fought between armed miners and a contingent of guards at Berwind Canyon, which ended with the killing of a guard. Another battle between strikers and guards was fought there without reported casualties. An armored train, the "death special," was outfitted and while on the way to Ludlow, it was shot up by armed miners who killed the engineer. The train was forced back. On October 27 strikers attacked a building sheltering guards at Forbes Junction.

While the fighting was going on, Governor Amnions was trying to bring about a settlement. Failing in the attempt, he sent the entire National Guard to the strike zone. [330] Their arrival was not opposed by the strikers, who felt that troops would behave better than company guards. The Governor, while directing that protection be accorded to property and those who wished to work, advised against the use of troops in assisting in the importation of strikebreakers. More than 2,000 guns of strikers were turned in at the request of the commanding general. Others were, however, kept in reserve. Great pressures were exercised on the Governor for stronger measures against the strikers and he capitulated by allowing Gen. John C. Chase, the head of the militia, to carry out a policy of repression.

Chase had been the commander in the metalliferous miners' strike in 1903-04, and his union animosity was well known. Militiamen began harassing strikers, many of whom were arrested and detained for long periods of time. At the request of the State federation of labor, the Governor appointed an investigating committee, which found that militia men had abused strikers and their wives and daughters. It reported that many of the guards had been allowed to join the National Guard, replacing regular members who were anxious to return to their homes and occupations. These men hated the strikers, and were not averse to assaulting and even killing them. The committee requested the removal of Chase as partial to the mine owners, and charged that many militiamen were guards on the payroll of the mine owners, and that the entire contingent had shown consistent bias in favor of the employers.

During February and March of 1914 there were few clashes, but it was believed that the presence of a congressional investigating committee in the State had a moderating influence on behavior. Most of the Guard was accordingly withdrawn, but a troop of 35 men was left at Ludlow and Berwind Canyon. This was a tough group, made up mostly of company guards and professional adventurers, whose commander was a Lt. K. E. Linderfelt, whose animosity to the strikers was well known. On April 20 the Ludlow tent colony was attacked by the soldiers under Linderfelt and five men and a boy were killed by rifle and machinegun fire. The militiamen then fired the tents, and 11 children and two women were smothered. The tents were stripped of all portable things of value. Hundreds of women were driven from this colony of 1,200 people to seek shelter in the ranches and homes of the [331] area. Three prisoners, including Louis Tikas, the Greek leader of the strike, were shot by the troops, ostensibly while trying to escape. The militiamen had one fatality.|

Two days later, the Colorado labor movement notified President Woodrow Wilson that it had called on the workers of the State to arm themselves and to "organize the men in your communities in companies of volunteers to protect the workers of Colorado." The call was signed by the heads of the State federation of labor and the miners' union. A "military camp of strikers was established. . . . Inflamed by what they considered the wanton slaughter of their women, children and comrades, the miners attacked mine after mine, driving off or killing the guards and setting fire to the buildings."114 In one action, 200 armed strikers left their base near Trinidad and attacked the mining camp at Forbes. Burning buildings, they poured deadly fire into the camp, killing nine guards and one strikebreaker; th strikers lost one man. Twenty-four hours later, Federal troops arrived, and the fighting ended. "During the ten days of fighting, at least fifty persons had lost their lives, including twenty-one killed at Ludlow."115 The Ludlow war ended with a total of 74 dead.

Despite the bloodshed, no recognition of the union was granted. Efforts of President Wilson to achieve permanent peace were in vain. A large number of miners, including John R. Lawson, the head of the miner's union in Colorado, were indicted. The latter was convicted of murder, but the verdict was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Ludlow war, one of the more tragic episodes in labor's history, failed to dissolve the adamantine opposition to unionism, which had become a fixed and immovable article of faith among many of the great industries of the United States.116


Strike statistics, which were published by the Commissioner of Labor beginning with the year 1881, ceased to appear in 1905, and were resumed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1915. The number of strikes between 1917 and 1922 was high compared with the following [332] decade. The influence of wartime demand for labor, the dislocations which accompany wartime economic activity, the sharp rise in union membership, and reduced unemployment all exercised an influence on the potential for labor violence. Strikes tended to be shorter during wartime, but with the ending of hostilities the country experienced severe tension in the labor market. Several factors accounted for heightened labor discontent. Union membership rose sharply between 1916 and 1920, from 2,772,000 to 4,881,000. Considerable dissatisfaction existed as a result of rises in the cost of living during wartime and the general malaise that war normally generates. Many employers who had accepted union organization as a wartime necessity or as a result of government fiat were now anxious to rid themselves of labor organizations. This is evident from the power of the campaign by antiunion employers who espoused the American Plan of Employment, a program designed to support employers opposing the presence of unions in industry. The large accretion of union members also brought demands for changes in union policy and for the use of more aggressive tactics in labor disputes.

1. Lynching of Frank Little

Despite the growth of strikes, the levels of violence during World War I were low, and the violence was mainly directed against strikers. In Butte, Mont., during the 1917 copper strike, the room of Frank Little, a member of the general executive board of the IWW, was invaded by a group of masked men. He was seized and hanged on a trestle. The strike itself had been called for improvement in the terms of employment and for the abolition of the "rustling card," a notice allowing the holder to seek employment in the mines which aided in the enforcement of a blacklist against union members. The Governor requested troops, and Federal soldiers arrived in Butte on September 10, 1917. The troops remained until December 18, 1917, and were returned to Butte on February 7, 1919, during a strike against a wage reduction led by the IWW. They departed 10 days later. The third appearance of Federal troops was during the miner's strike of April 1920. They remained in the city until January 1921.117 [333]

2. The Arizona Deportations

During World War I, strikes in most of the Arizona copper mines were called by the Industrial Workers of the World, or the International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelte Workers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor. A common response of employers was to deport the strike leaders and their followers. On July 10, for example, a Loyalty League, which had been organized by businessmen and mining officials in Jerome, deported 76 "offensive radicals."118

The Jerome deportation was carried on by only a small number of businessmen. However, virtually the entire business and mining employer community participated in the deportations of 1,284 men from Bisbee, Ariz., on July 12, 1917. Great discontent with wages and working conditions existed in the Arizona copper county during 1917 and 1918. In addition, the IWW and Mine & Smelter Workers were competing for members among the miners. The latter had originally organized a large number of workers in the Warren district, of which Bisbee was the most important community. It had, however, lost its place to Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union No. 800, an IWW affiliate. A set of demands was drawn up and presented to the companies in the area. They refused to confer with, the IWW committee and a strike was called for June 26.119

A large proportion of the miners in the Bisbee area responded to the strike call. Testimony showed that there was no violence. In fact, some witnesses claimed that petty crime had diminished because the IWW had told the bootleggers not to carry on their activities during the strike. Nevertheless, a Loyalty League was organized, and several mine managers suggested that the strikers and their sympathizers be deported from the city. The cooperation of Sheriff Harry Wheeler was obtained. On the morning of July 12 the streets of Bisbee were filled with men wearing white handkerchiefs on their sleeves. They had been deputized by Sheriff Wheeler. Men on the street were stopped and their business ascertained. Those unable to give satisfactory explanations were seized and taken to the local ball park which served as the assembly point for "undesirables." Homes of known strikers and sympathizers, including some lawyers, tradesmen, business men, and property [334] owners, were visited and many were taken into custody. A deputy seeking to arrest a member of the IWW was killed, and his assailant slain by a fellow deputy. This was the only violent incident in the rounding up of 1,284 men.

After 2 hours in the ball park under a hot Arizona sun, the prisoners were compelled to march between two lines of armed men and to board a cattle train which the railroad provided. According to Fred W. Brown, a voluntary organizer of the American Federation of Labor, the tracks along the first stop of the train were "lined with gunmen" who had left Bisbee and had overtaken the train. Mounted guns stood on both sides of the track and no one was allowed to leave. The train arrived in Columbus, stayed for an hour, and left for Hermanes, where the men were dumped. On the morning of July 14, a company of U.S. soldiers arrived and brought the deportees back to Columbus, where they were provided with food and shelter by the U.S. Government. After 8 days, they were allowed to leave. A majority stayed until September; food was cut off on September 12.

During the deportation, no messages were allowed to leave Bisbee. The sheriff then established a screening committee, a "kangaroo court," before which the deportees and others seeking to enter Bisbee had to appear. Many of those who came to seek work or reclaim their clothes and other personal possessions were forced to leave the community, even when they owned property. The President's Mediation Commission, during its inquiry in Arizona, was told by Sheriff Wheeler that he had heard from a chambermaid and others that there was "a plan on foot when they [the strikers] go down in the mines to get their clothing . . . that they were to block those tunnels and keep the men down at work in the mines. I am told these things; I cannot swear to them."120 U.S. Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson, who was chairman of the commission, made his feelings known by asking:

And on the strength of rumors of that kind you directed the picking up of twelve hundred people here, some only for a brief period and some, as we are informed, here for a long time, and under the authority to use whatever power is necessary you undertook to use that power not only within your own bailiwick, but outside your own bailiwick . . . where you had no authority and where you were not authorized or directed to use power."121

In a message to the Legislature, Governor George Pi Hunt denounced the -- ||

mob of nearly two thousand men directed by county authorities . . . [who] under cover of darkness, calmly, premeditatedly, deliberately, swooped down at dawn upon the homes of unsuspecting, unoffending miners who committed no violence, nay more who had threatened no violence but who had every lawful reason to feel secure as citizens under the guarantees vouchsafed by the Constitution of the United States of America.123
Sheriff Wheeler and 21 leading businessmen were indicted for violating the rights of the deportees by a Federal grand jury. The indictment was invalidated by the U.S. circuit court, and the decision was upheld in United States v. Wheeler. An indictment by the State for illegal kidnaping was obtained against 224 leading businessmen, Sheriff Wheeler, and many deputies and police officers. One case was tried, and the verdict of acquittal after several weeks of trial led to the dismissal of the charges against the otherl defendants. President Wilson and the President's Mediation Commission sharply criticized the conduct of the mob guilty of the deportation.123

3. The Steel and Coal Strikes

Changes in attitudes were noticeable with the coming of peace. During the war the Government sought to prevent protracted labor disputes, because they inevitably lowered output. Once the war was over, the restraints of the Government in the name of patriotism were no longer effective. Moreover, a large amount of discontent among workers led to an increase in wildcat as well as in authorized strikes. Workers in some industries were trying to fortify bargaining rights that they had gained as a result of Government pressure. Unions had carried on more vigorous organizing drives than before the war, and American Federation of Labor affiliates had sponsored a joint campaign for organizing the open-shop steel industry. The organization campaign was successful in enlisting the support of most steelworkers, but a barrier was posed by the refusal of the U.S. Steel Corp. and the smaller companies in the industry to deal with unions. Elbert Gray, on behalfj of his own company and the industry, refused to meet with a committee of union officers claiming to represent [336] employees of his company. Neither the pleas of the President of the United States nor clergymen nor any other force would induce him to recede from his position. Reluctantly a strike was called by the cooperating unions, and it turned out to be one of the more bloody of the period. Meetings were suppressed in many steel communities, union organizers and officers harassed, and behind the protection of police and hired guards the companies reopened their plants and were able to compel the unions to surrender without gaining any concessions. Violence was widespread in steel communities such as Gary, Ind., and State and Federal troops were brought in to restore order. In other towns, troops were not required. Twenty people were killed during the strike, and many more injured.

Coal was the center of some of the bloodiest labor disputes after World War I. The disputes centered around the efforts of the United Mine Workers of America to organize the nonunion counties of McDowell, Mingo, and Logan Counties in West Virginia. In September 1919, armed union miners were set to invade Logan County, but turned back at the request of the Governor and district officers of the union in order to preserve peace. A strike for union recognition was called in Mattewan, Mingo County, in May 1920, and in an argument over evictions of miners from company houses, shooting between Baldwin-Felts guards and Sheriff Sid Hatfield left 10 dead, seven of them guards. The strike spread to McDowell County, which was soon caught up in the developing violence. Troops were sent in by the State, and after the killing of six in a battle between miners and deputies, Federal troops arrived. Federal troops were withdrawn, to be replaced by large numbers of deputies.

In the first months of 1921 it appeared that peace had been restored, but by May each side was arming for renewed warfare. Hundreds of armed miners were determined to march again into Logan County and the sheriff was prepared to prevent their entry. Union officers at first convinced the miners to withdraw and go home, but a report that miners had been ambushed and killed led the miners to re-form their ranks. Several thousand armed miners began a march on Logan County, and the Governor called for Federal aid. President Warren Harding ordered the miners to disperse and sent 2,100 Federal troops to [337] enforce his order. Six hundred miners surrendered to the U.S. Army, and after being disarmed, were released. The arrival of Federal troops ended the miner's war. Severa hundred were indicted in State courts for sedition and conspiracy, but juries refused to convict. In all, at least 21 people lost their lives. A Senate committee found that both sides were guilty of acts of violence. The conduct of the union was found "absolutely indefensible. Men have beer killed, property had been destroyed, telephone wires cut, trains commandeered and misused, and a march of some thousands of men organized and policies carried out which bordered close on insurrection."124 The committee criticized the system of "paying sheriffs out of funds contribute by the operators," and the prevention of union members from coming into the area. "There is complete industrial autocracy in this country."125

4. The Use of Troops in Labor Disputes

Before World War I armed soldiers were usually employed once labor disputes became seriously disruptive; in the war and postwar period troops often were sent to trouble spots as a precautionary measure. The diversified circumstances in which troops were employed can be examined by viewing the experience of several major industries. For unrecorded reasons, the Governor of Colorado sent troops into two coal communities during 1921 and 1922.126 Earlier, in 1919 and 1920, the Governor of Alabama had sent the militia into the coal areas during labor troubles; they were there in November 1919 and September 1920.127

After the breakdown of an interstate conference with the United Mine Workers in summer of 1922, the coal operators informed the President of the United States that, given adequate protection, they could operate their mines despite a prospective strike. Thereupon the President appealed to the Governors of 28 States to provide adequate policing so that the mines would start producing.

The Governor of Pennsylvania sent more than 1,100 state troops to the strike fields of Western Pennsylvania for guard duty. The Governor of Colorado sent troops to the coal fields of that state. The Governor of Kentucky did likewise. Troops patrolled the highways. They broke up union meetings. They refused to permit [338] miners to stop in the streets and roads to talk to each other. The Governor of Indiana sent 800 troops into Clay and other counties to afford protection while coal was being produced.128
The National Guard was also on duty in New Mexico and Utah and at a number of points in other States. The War Department dispatched Federal troops at the request of the Governors to the following States: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Washington.129

The bloodiest encounter during the coal strike occurred near Herrin, Ill. One of the operators, the Southern Illinois Coal Co., was allowed to uncover dirt from the overlay on condition that no coal would be shipped. The company had dealt with the union, as did all the operators in the Illinois District No. 12, United Mine Workers of America. The miners employed left their jobs, as did all others in the district, when the union issued a strike call. Later during the strike the company broke relations with the union and began mining coal. The workers whom it had imported were supposed to be members of the Shovelmen's Union. When John L. Lewis was asked about the organization, he replied that it was an "outlaw" organization, meaning it was unaffiliated. William J. Lester, head of the company, in addition to carrying on mining, had imported a number of guards. Three miners who approached the mining operation, presumably for a conference, were killed. Miners in the neighboring town armed themselves, and in the latter part of June sprayed the mining area with gunfire and stormed the stockade. Those who surrendered were beaten and shot to death, including Lester. Twenty-one, three of them strikers, died in this attempt to create a nonunion enclave in District No. 12, which had been completely unionized since 1898.130

Apart from Herrin, in which troops were not used, there was little violence associated with the coal strike. This lack of violence was due essentially to the success of miners in shutting down operations completely and the fact that reopening of the mines took place under the protection of State and Federal troops. The inability of the coal operators to resume production despite military protection compelled them to resume bargaining with the United Mine Workers, which led to an agreement. [339]

5. Railroad Disputes

A strike on the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad had begun early in 1921, more than a year before the National Shopmen's strike, and lasted into 1923. On January 16, 1923, a mob congregated at Harrison, Ark., and strikers and their sympathizers were brought before a self-appointed committee of 12. The home of E. C. McGregor, an active strike leader and a member of the Machinist's Union, was invaded. McGregor was seized and lynched. Strikers were driven from their homes and ordered not to return or face death. A legislative committee, investigating the lynching found,

The testimony in bulk disclosed the undisputed fact that on Monday, January 16, 1923, the citizens along the railroad arose en masse and took the situation in hand. . . . That in carrying out this movement they took charge of persons and entered into private homes without due process of law, and without legal authority and that in many instances men were ordered or advised to leave with the single purpose to break the existing strike on the Missoui and North Arkansas Railroad and to guarantee the operations of its trains. We find that the situation in Harrison was in charge of a large body of armed men.131

The Shopmen's Unions had greatly expanded as a result of favorable treatment they received from the Government. The return of the railroads to private management after the war led to the establishment of the Railway Labor Board, which authorized several general wage cuts. Rank-and-file pressures forced the unions, against the wishes of some of their leaders, to call a national strike on July 1, 1922, in which 400,000 men participated. The National Guard was sent to a number of points, although there were no reports of violence or intimidation. In Missouri the entire Guard was mobilized, and units were sent "to Franklin, Moberly, Macon, Poplar Bluff, and Chaffee, these being prominent railroad centers."132 Since no violence was reported, it can only be assumed that the troops were used as either a precautionary device or as an attempt to overawe the strikers. The Kentucky Guard was sent to two localities and soldiers of the Illinois militia were called out| at three points in connection with the railroad strike. Three other States -- Kansas, Texas, and Idaho -- sent troops to two railroad centers within each State. In addition, the [340] entire National Guard of California was mobilized for service in the railroad strike of 1922 "in readiness for possible trouble . . . but were not placed on active duty."133

The shopmen's strike did not force the carriers to suspend operations. The operating crafts were not asked to respect the picket line and worked throughout the strike. As a result, the spectacular assaults of the strikes in 1877 and 1894 were absent. Nevertheless, there was a large amount of serious violence during this walkout. In the application for a restraining order, the United States charged that 20 persons had been killed in a number of incidents stretching across the entire country. On July 9, a Negro strikebreaker was killed in Birmingham, Ala. In Arkansas a striker was killed, and two others wounded on August 2. A strikebreaker was killed in Atlanta on August 5. In Illinois a strikebreaker was killed at Joliet and another at Centralia on August 4. Three days later the chief special agent of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad was killed and the sheriff was wounded. A Negro strikebreaker was killed at Samesett, Ky., on August 21, and a railroad watchman in Kansas City on July 28. Three shopmen in Cleveland were killed on August 10, and another was stabbed to death in Toledo on July 27. Another fatality connected with the shopmen's strike took place at Willard, Ohio, on July 10. Two Negro strikebreakers employed in the Illinois Central shops were killed near Memphis on July 26. Two others were killed at Hulbert on August 11, and one near Memphis on August 17. A Negro strikebreaker lost his life near Dallas, Tex., on July 15, and in Virginia two more died in connection with the strike, one on the Seaboard Airline near Portsmouth and another at Harrisonburg.134

The Government claimed that assaults with deadly weapons upon strikebreakers had taken place in 27 States and that sabotage had been practiced against railroad structures or the right-of-way in 20 States. Specifically, these included the dynamiting of bridges, the wrecking of trains, the derailment of others, the throwing of bombs. These episodes resulted principally in damage to property; a derailment in Worcester, Mass. was an exception, leading to the death of two persons and injury to 30 others.135

In a digest of reports from Federal attorneys and marshals, 60 out of 81 Federal districts reported -- [341]

increasing trouble and violence until September 1, 1922, and thereafter a decided decrease. Intimidation and picketing practically ceased after the month of September, even in those district in which the strike was continued . . . seventy-two out of 81 districts reported aggravated acts of intimidation practiced by strikers and sympathizers against all who either remained on the job or sought work.136
The acts of intimidation ranged from the use of profanity to --
threats of death and violence not only against the workman but against his wife and children . . . bombing, painting with yellow paint, and the writing of inflammatory words upon the workman's house. The secondary boycott, which forced merchants not to sell to workmen; kidnapping and abductions, followed by tar and feathers or whipping and beatings, which resulted in bleeding backs and broken bones; robberies; forcible withdrawal from work and even from the cities; bombing of roundhouses and trains and throwing of bombs near workmen; firing bridges and the homes of workmen; sending of letters and circulars containing threats, abusive and insulting language; picketing, which included clubbings and beatings whenever there was no officer present . . . terrorism by mobs; persuasion under threat of violence; the nightly shootings by large crowds of men with high-powered rifles into railroad shops in which men were working; forcible entrance into the railroad shops, whereupon they destroyed and damaged engines and railroad property, and dragging the women out, beat them and sent away with instructions never to return.137
According to the same reports, there were "at least 13 murders, numerous attempts at murder, numerous shots with deadly weapons, and several deaths due to wrecks which were traceable to the strikers. The number of personal attacks were in the thousands."138

The Attorney General stated that there were over 2,000 arrests made in connection with the strike, and punishment ranged from costs to fines of $2,000, and imprisonment from 1 day to 2 years. The majority of fines in the Federal courts were $50, and the average imprisonment was for 30 days.

Very incomplete reports were received relative to State and local prosecutions, but so far over 150 arrests are reported, with fines ranging from costs to $5,000, and imprisonment ranging from one day to seven years; and the major cases involving arson, murder, wreckings and bombings have not been tried. Over 500 convictions in the State Federal courts have been reported.139
[342] The Federal Government has appointed 3,259 special deputy marshals; the largest number, 571, in Texas, and the fewest, 2, in Illinois.140

The widespread violence did not change the outcome. The leaders were dubious about the success of the strike, and they went along because of pressure from the rank and file. Violence began almost at once because the carriers decided, at the beginning, upon replacing the strikers. The strikers reacted with savage violence in many places, but their acts were unable to reverse the defeat which they faced. The strike failed everywhere. Among the major contributing causes were the unremitting hostility of the Federal Government, which secured sweeping injunctions based upon the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and the decision of the operating brotherhoods to cross picket lines and run the trains. Before it had ended, 19 persons had been killed, almost all of them strikebreakers, guards, or special railroad watchmen.141

6. Soldiers and Local Disputes

Federal troops were sent to Denver, Colo., during the street railway strike of 1920.142 The Denver streetcar strike was the result of the failure of the city to continue the increase in wages ordered by the War Labor Board. When the Board ordered higher wages to meet the rising cost of living, it suggested that the Public Service Commission allow for a fare increase from 5 to 6 cents. In May 1919, Dewey C. Bailey was elected mayor on a platform that he would rescind the fare increase. When the fare was reduced, the company cut wages. A strike was called, and after 4 days the repeal of the 6-cent fare and the wage cut were rescinded. This was only a temporary pause. In July 1920 the level of the fare and wages were again in dispute, and when the company refused to recede from its plan to reduce wages, the men voted by 887 to 10 to go out on strike. The strike started on August 1, and by August 3 "Black Jack" Jerome led bis contingent of guards and strikebreakers into Denver and announced he would break the strike. Some violence had taken place on August 5 and 6, but the most serious event took place on August 7. Streetcars were wrecked, and a large crowd congregated around the carbarn. Firing began from inside the barn, and before the [343] clash had ended, 7 persons had been killed, 4 of them unconnected with the strike, and 81 had been injured, 21 of whom were strikebreakers. Federal troops were brought into the city, and rioting ceased. Use of strikebreakers ceased on September 1. The union lost its bargaining rights.143

State troops were continually used during the early 1920's. The Governor of Kansas sent troops to Crawford County in December 1921. In the same month militia were sent by the Governor of Minnesota to South St. Paul, where a strike at the Armour Meat Packing plant was in progress. Strikers were cleared from streets adjacent to the plant. Strikes in the cotton mills in Concord, N.C., led the Governor to send troops, presumably because of threats made by pickets. A strike of paper workers in Vermont led the Governor to send troops to Bellows Falls and Wilder during July 1921.144 The Chief of the Militia Bureau observed:

Emergency duty in the strike area is the most disagreeable feature of National Guard service. Not only does such duty require a man in the ranks to use arms when necessary, perhaps against his own friends and fellow-workmen, but such duty also imposes actual hardship on the Guardsmen, both in the matter of long absences from his business and in the violence which he is frequently called upon to overcome.145


Union membership sharply declined between 1920 and 1923, from the high point of 4,881,000 in 1920 to 3,622,000 in 1923. Union activity similarly declined. Even more consequential than the decline in membership was the loss of elan and confidence that overcame the labor organizations as a result of repeated lost strikes. In effect, the removal of Government protection made many of the wartime's gains temporary, and numerous employers reverted to a nonunion status. Although membership did no fluctuate sharply through the rest of the decade, the failurt to make substantial gains in a generally prosperous period reflected a low level of organizing capacity, which was in turn a sign of loss of confidence.

The number of strikes dropped sharply, and while they varied from year to year, the number in 1928 was below those of any year of record since 1884. The years from 1920 through 1932 reveal the same experience, a moderate [344] number of strikes. One result was a lowering of the level of industrial violence, although it erupted in the Chicago building trades as a result of the efforts of the business community to compel the building trades to accept an arbitration award of Judge Kenesaw M. Landis. The award followed an agreement between the Chicago building trades unions and the building trades contractor associations to allow Judge Landis to settle their differences over wages, judge Landis' award was rejected by the unions on the ground that he had exceeded the powers under which he acted as an arbitrator. Employers denied the charge, and, with the support of the entire business community, decided to ignore the union's protests. When the contractors began to operate with new recruits, they found many of them assaulted and equipment and jobs damaged or dynamited. Two watchmen at one of the jobs were killed, and many others, workmen and pickets, were injured. The fight over the Landis award lasted from 1923 to 1926, when the industry returned to its former relationships.146 It is difficult to determine the role of force in this sequence of changes. Many contractors found the award unworkable because it made bidding more difficult, and they welcomed participation in wage-setting and work rules enforcement.

The low strike level elsewhere in the country reduced the possibilities for violent confrontations, although the Governors of Indiana, North Carolina, and Rhode Island each sent State troops to the scenes of strikes.147 In none of the three cases was violence reported. As usual, continuous strife took place in the bituminous coal industry. In Colorado, the Industrial Workers of the World notified the State industrial commission that a strike would be called in 30 days unless the operators made concessions. Thereupon the city council of Walsenberg ordered all members of the IWW out of town, and a mob led by the mayor wrecked the IWW headquarters. The companies refused concessions and a strike was called on October 18, 1927. During the strike a new constabulary was established, and on November 21 the constables, against the wishes of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Co., appeared before the Columbine, owned by the latter company, and ordered the cessation of picketing. When the pickets refused, and some rocks were thrown at the constables, they emptied their guns at the pickets, killing six and wounding a number of others.148 During a [345] parade of strikers to a meeting with the Industrial Commission, on January 12, 1928, the lines were ordered to disperse. Shooting began, and a boy and a striker were killed.

This strike attracted nationwide attention but it was much less significant than the efforts of the bituminous coal miners to maintain their union in the coal fields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Investigating the reported abuses, a U.S. Senate committee noted:

Everywhere your committee made an investigation in the Pittsburgh district we found coal and iron police and deputy sheriffs visible in great numbers. In the Pittsburgh district your committee understands there are employed at the present time between 500 and 600 coal and iron police and deputy sheriffs. They are all very large men; most of them weighing from 200 to 250 pounds. They are all heavily armed and carry clubs usually designated as a "black jack."

Everywhere your committee visited they found victims of the| coal and iron police who had been beaten up and were still carrying the scars on their faces and heads from the rough treatment they had received.149

There were also a number of textile strikes in the South, which attracted more than ordinary attention because of the resistance to the unions shown by the industry. In 1927, troops were sent to Hendersonville, N.C, during a textile strike because of the reported threats of violence.150 Strike leaders were kidnaped and run out of town during a strike at Elizabethtown, Tenn., in April 1929. After a short organizing campaign, the National Textile Workers Union called a strike on August 1, 1929, at the Loray mill of Manville-Jenckes Co., in Gastonia, N.C. About 1,800 workers joined the strike. Although no violence had taken place, Governor Max Gardner sent troops into the area on August 4; they were withdrawn on August 20.

An attempt to organize the employees of the Marion Manufacturing Co., Marion, N.C, led to a strike of 1,000 hosiery workers on July 11, 1929. Workers employed at the Clinchfield mills joined the strikers after 1 month. As a result of sporadic clashes, Governor Max Gardner sent the militia to the area on August 11. The troops arrested 148 strikers, charging them with rioting. On September 11 the strike was called off, and the men returned to work, but as a result of a dispute over work payment, the night shift went on strike on October 2. The strikers remained before [346] the mill gates seeking to notify the day shift that a strike had been called. Without warning deputies fired into the line of pickets, killing 6 and wounding 24. The militia, which had been withdrawn, was sent back to Marion. The sheriff, 12 deputies, and 2 mill officials were arrested and charged with homicide. Eight were tried and acquitted, although all the dead and wounded had been shot in the back.151 In 3 months in which the two strikes had taken place -- July through early October -- 7 strikers had been killed, 24 were wounded by gunfire, and about 150 were arrested, charged with rioting.152

In addition to the above, constant violence accompanied labor disputes in Kentucky's Harlan and Bell Counties in 1931 and 1932. In February 1931, several thousand mine workers went out on strike in Bell County. In April, Jerse Pace, a deputy, wounded William Burnett, who returned the fire and killed Pace. On May 5 a battle between miners and deputies at Evarts resulted in the death of Jim Daniels, a deputy sheriff, two other deputies and a miner. In Harlan County on May 7, 325 guards armed with machineguns were sent to the mine areas. On August 30, Deputy Sheriff Ed Rose killed Calo Hyatt, a 19-year-old miner, and wounded his father. Two striking miners, Joe Moore and Julius Baldwin, were killed by Deputy Sheriff Lee Fleenor. In Knox County on February 11, 1932, Harry Simms, an organizer, was killed by Deputy Sheriff Artie Miller. During this period attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Arthur Garfield Hayes and Dudley Field Malone, were prevented from entering Bell County.153

Many strikes during this period involved agricultural workers. Imperial Valley was the scene of an extensive strike in 1930 under the auspices of the Agricultural Workers Industrial Union, a Communist-dominated organization. Sixteen participants were indicted for criminal syndicalism, of whom six Mexicans were convicted; the others were paroled. Organization drives in California by the Cannery & Agricultural Workers Industrial Union in 1933 met with some success. A union demand for 35 cents an hour was the major strike issue. Violence occurred during disorders in El Centro on January 9, 1933, but was suppressed. In October 1930, cottonpickers in the San Joaquin Valley went on strike for a pay increase from 60 cents to $1 for 100 pounds of cotton picked. Acts of violence were carried [347] out against strikers. At Pixley two strikers were killed and 12 injured on October 10. Another striker was killed at Arvin. A trial followed, which lasted 16 weeks and resulted in the conviction of 14 men for criminal syndicalism. In the onion fields of Hardin County, Ohio, in June 1934, 800 workers went on strike. Okey O'Dell led in forming the Agricultural Workers Union, AFL. Shortly thereafter he was abducted and beaten, and ordered not to return to the area. The strike was lost. On September 7, 1934, 67 persons were arrested, but the grand jury would not indict.154


Between 1933 and 1937 the labor movement underwent profound changes internally as well as in its relations to employers. For the first time in peacetime history, union organizations had the attention and approval of the Federal Government. Influenced by the labor legislation of the first years of the Roosevelt administration, unions began to expand, and by 1937 more members were enrolled in unions than at any time in history. The increases in union membership were reflected in a doubling of strikes between 1932 and 1933, and another doubling from 2,172 in 1936 to 4,740 in 1937. Almost half of the strikes in 1937 were for union recognition.

State troops were frequently employed during 1933. The Governor of Minnesota sent soldiers to restore order in a strike of packinghouse workers in Austin, and the Guard was used during a walkout in Amoskeag and Manchester, N.H. The Guard was also directed to Bath, Langley, and Clearwater, S.C., to handle a textile workers' strike. In Barre and Graniteville, Vt., during a dispute involving granite workers, and at Salah and Yakima, Wash., during a strike of orchard workers, troops were used because of threats made.155

1. Coal Again

The increase in strikes increased the number of occasions for clashes between workers, strikebreakers, and the police. Violence occurred in the coal areas in a number of States where organization was progressing rapidly, with the most serious episodes occurring in the captive mine districts [348[ of Pennsylvania and in Kentucky, where resistance to new unionizing drives was carried on by deputies on the payroll of the mine companies.156

The bloody character of coal labor disputes brought out the National Guard in Indiana, New Mexico, and Utah, as well as in Ohio, where the death of a miner at Sullivan was responsible for the presence of State troops. The prime reason for calling up the Guard appeared to have been actual or threatened clashes between strikers and their replacements.157 In Fayette County, Pa., where the captive mines were located, the companies refused to recognize the United Mine Workers of America. After a dozen pickets had been injured, Governor Gifford Pinchot ordered State troops into the area. A temporary agreement was reached, but the companies tried to operate as soon as the agreement broke down. Attempts of pickets to prevent the movement of strikebreakers towards the mine led to firing in which 17 pickets and a deputy were wounded. With the aid of President Roosevelt, an agreement to hold an election was reached and the violence ceased.158

The most sanguinary episodes took place in Kentucky, where coal operators in Harlan and Bell Counties continued aggressive resistance to unionization that they had used in the past. Neither changes in public or worker sentiment, nor Government suasion could soften their determination to keep their operations on a nonunion basis. Soon after the enactment of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the United Mine Workers sought to organize the miners employed by the U.S. Coal & Coke Co., a subsidiary of the U.S. Steel Corp. at Lynch, a mining community in the eastern part of Harlan County. The union succeeded in establishing a local in June 1933. After a time an open meeting was held in Cumberland, and two members of the Lynch police force stood in front of the hall and noted who was present at the meeting from their town. Subsequently, men were discharged, and in July and August 1933, the police department of Lynch purchased tear gas, 41 rifles, 21 revolvers, and 500 cartridges. A company union was also formed. Under this pressure, organizing was suspended.159

In December 1934 the Mine Workers resumed its campaign, and its organizers were harried by company police who justified their surveillance by the claim that the town [349] was private property and strangers could be watched and forced to leave town. Union organizers were not allowed to enter Lynch by the sheriff and his deputies, and organizers were subjected to "rough shadowing," a procedure under which "a man is under surveillance in such a manner that not only he knows he is being followed but anyone he meets becomes aware of it. The value of such a device to discourage contact with union organizers by workers in a mine or plant is obvious."160 After the signing of the agreement between the U.S. Steel Corp. and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1937, the harassing of organizers ceased in Lynch. Other methods were adopted in other parts of Harlan County. Evidence was adduced showing how the Harlan County Coal Operators Association learned through its spies of the trip planned by Lawrence Dyer, organizer of the United Mine Workers of America. As Dyer's car was passing beneath a clump of bushes, a volley of shots from the top of the cliff wounded two of the car's occupants. Later, Dyer's home in Pineville, Bell County, was dynamited.

When the contract between the Harlan County Coal Operators Association and the United Mine Workers of America expired, in April 1934, armed deputies and company guards were in full command. Peaceful meetings of the miners were suppressed, union miners were severely beaten, and organizers driven out of town. After the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, renewed efforts to organize were undertaken by the United Mine Workers, which had contracts with three coal companies in Harlan County. During July and August 1935, the Kentucky National Guard was in Harlan keeping order at the direction of Governor Ruby Lafoon. During its stay, union organizers were not molested. However, the sheriff successfully sought an injunction against bringing the National Guard into Harlan County. It was set aside by the Kentucky Supreme Court, on the ground that the sheriff "did not have a property right in the preservation of law and order," and that a judge could not prohibit the National Guard from entering the county. In September 1935, miners in 13 camps went on strike. A union member was kidnapped and compelled to leave the county. The union was not at this time successful in organizing, and abandoned its efforts temporarily.161 [350]

When a new organizing drive was launched in 1937, the sheriff increased the number of deputy sheriffs to 163, only 3 of whom were paid from public funds. At first no violence was used against union organizers.162 They were not, however, able to obtain lodgings at some hotels, and in one instance tear-gas bombs were thrown into the place where organizers were staying. On February 8, 1937, as a group of organizers were driving through the countryside, they were fired upon from a car and one of the occupants was wounded. The driver of the organizer's car accelerated his speed and managed to escape into a garage. "Fearful of their safety and concerned over the wound [received by one of their number], the organizers . . . boarded a bus which took them out of the county." 163 The incident had been witnessed by three small boys who related what they had seen to Lloyd Clouse. After being warned to keep quiet, Clouse was shot and killed on April 24, 1937, by a deputy. Marshall Musick, a union organizer who had lived in Evarts for 14 years, was forced to leave town because he feared he would be killed after he had been warned and shot at several times. After Musick had left, his son was killed by a volley fired through the window of his house.164

On November 27, 1937, the National Labor Relations Board found the Clover Fork Co. guilty of discriminating against members of the United Mine Workers of America, and found the Harlan County Coal Operators Association guilty of coercion and restraint of workers in the "mines of Harlan County in the exercise of their right to self-organization."165 Reinstatement of 60 miners improperly dismissed was ordered. The decision was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

As a result of this decision, the other coal companies of Harlan County, which had not abandoned the unyielding attitude toward the union, settled their disputes with the union. On August 19, 1938, the Harlan County Coal Operator's Association signed an agreement with the United Mine Workers extending the terms of the Southern Appalachian contract to the Harlan County Coal Operators Association.166
Peace was finally established in the Kentucky coal mines.

While violence in labor disputes usually arises out of differences between employers and employees, interunion differences can also be a cause of serious collisions. One [351] of the more violent disputes took place in the Illinois mining area, where an independent union, the Progressive Mine Workers of America, was organized in 1932, after differences over a contract with the United Mine Workers of America. When the Progressives sought to gain control over the entire mining area of the State, they encountered resistance from those loyal to the old union. In Taylorville, Governor Henry Horner was forced to send the National Guard to put down the rioting and restore order. Each faction controlled part of the mining territory, and the efforts of one to invade the domain of the other were forcibly resisted. The struggle, which started in 1932 and continued to 1937, cost an estimated 24 lives and countless dollars for legal fees and relief.167

2. Violence and the Use of Troops in 1934

The increase in demands for recognition brought about by a rapidly growing union membership led to violence on many picket lines. In 1934, State troops were called out in connection with the national textile strike during September. The major reason for the violence and the use of troops appears to have been the determination of employers not to deal with the union. This was the basic impediment to a peaceful settlement in the national textile strike, the San: Francisco longshoremen's strike, and the Minneapolis textile and the Kohler strikes of that year, which were the centers of the most serious violence.

In Toledo, Ohio, the newly organized United Automobile Workers sought recognition from the Electric Auto-Lite Co., the Bingham Tool & Stamping Co., and the Logan Gear Co. The demands of the union were rejected, and a strike began on May 23. Assaults upon nonstrikers brought a contingent of National Guardsmen into the city. In a clash between troops and strikers on May 25, 2 pickets were killed and 25 were injured. A wage increase and limited recognition ended the walkout.168 Strikers were also killed in the coal mines around Empire and Leeds, Ala., and in Pike County, Ky.; in a walkout at a steel plant in Latrobe, Pa.; in a strike of ore miners around Birmingham, Ala.; and during a longshore strike in Galveston, Tex.

The Kohler Co. strike at Kohler, Wis., also concerned union organization. Kohler Village was established by the [352] Kohler family at the end of the 1890's, and the company pursued a paternalistic policy. Higher than prevailing wage rates were paid, and workers were encouraged to save and purchase homes. A union reared its head after the enactment of the National Industrial Recovery Act, and in July 1934 it sought recognition. It was refused by the company. A strike followed on July 16, and the company employed a force of deputies to protect its properties. Simultaneously, the company announced it would not bargain with nonemployees, which meant outside union representatives. No untoward incidents took place until July 27, when strikers and guards clashed before the American Club in which the deputies were housed. Troops were sent by the Governor. One striker and a strike sympathizer were killed, and 35 others required hospital treatment.169

3. The Minneapolis Teamster's Strike

During 1933, the teamsters established Local 574 in Minneapolis. A strike of coal drivers led to a compromise settlement. This victory encouraged the expansion of unionization to the cartage companies. When a demand for increased wages and improved working conditions was rejected by cartage employers, a strike was called on May 15, 1934; about 5,000 truck drivers, helpers, and platform and inside men were involved. Rioting began immediately, a riot on May 21 resulting in injuries to a score of strikers. The next day a battle among pickets, police, and special deputies led to the killing of a businessman acting as a special policeman. A number of others were seriously injured. A truce was called, but when no agreement followed a second strike was called. The employers still refused to recognize the union, and the walkout continued. At the end of July, National Guardsmen were sent into the city by Governor Floyd Olson. Another striker was killed on August 2. The Governor would not allow the movement of trucks except for those in interstate commerce or carrying necessities. In the end a compromise settlement was reached, influenced by the suggestions of Federal mediators. It was the basis of a tremendous expansion of the uniori into many parts of the Middle West. [353]

4. General Strike in Cotton Textiles

The 1934 strike that involved the largest number of workers took place in the cotton textile industry after the convention of the United Textile Workers of America had demanded a general wage increase and other improvements in working conditions. When all proposals for meetings were rejected by the industry, a strike was called on August 31, 1934. The workers in Alabama commenced their walkout earlier, on July 15, and an estimated 20,000 in 28 mills were reported on strike. In Alabama, the presided of the Decatur local was shot and two of his aides were beaten. The National Guard was sent to Chambers and Lee Counties. In Georgia, complaints of roving pickets were made at the beginning of the strike. Clashes between pickets and strike guards led the Governor to proclaim martial law, and to set up an internment camp. In a fight between strikers and guards at Trion, 2 were killed and 24 wounded. In North Carolina, a number of pickets and strikebreakers were wounded, and the Governor sent troops to the strike zone. The troops were directed to "afford protection to those citizens who wanted to work and were being denied that privilege. . . . This policy extended to the protection of strikers and other citizens whose action and conduct was within their legal rights; this thought with reference to picketing."170

In South Carolina, troops were ordered to Greer, Lyman, and Greensville. In the latter town, a deputy sheriff had killed a striker; but the worst riot took place at Honea Path, where six were killed. Similar conditions in the North brought out the National Guard in a number of centers in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. In Saylesville, R.I., 3 were shot and killed, 8 wounded, and 132 injured on September 12. The following day another picket was wounded and a number of others were wounded in a later scuffle when troops charged pickets. Throughout the strike, 5,000 State troops were active in New England, and an estimated 2,000 strikers were interned in Georgia. The strike cost 15 lives, and an unestimated number of wounded by gunfire and other means.171 The textile strike was completely lost. [354]

5. The Pacific Longshore Strike

Unions in the Pacific coast seafaring and longshore industry, which had been largely elminated in the 1920's, were reestablished in 1933. Negotiations between unions and their employers did not move on an even keel. At best, the shipowners and stevedore companies accorded the the labor groups grudging recognition and waited for an opportunity to eliminate the unions. In the spring of 1934 no agreement could be reached with the Pacific coast longshoremen, who were then affiliated with the International Longshoremen's Association. At the same time, the seagoing unions made demands for recognition. The demands of both groups were rejected by the employers and the longshoremen and seamen struck, respectively, on May 9 and May 16, 1934. After several plans for ending the walkout had failed, a movement for reopening the San Francisco port was undertaken by the Industrial Association. On July 3, trucking operations were begun, and several trucks loaded with cargo were taken through the picket lines. On the following day the Belt Line Railway, a State-owned line, was attacked by strikers and sympathizers. Governor Frank Merriam then sent the National Guard into the city to restore order. On July 6 the worst riot of the strike, and the encounter that was to bring on a local general walkout, took place. Two pickets were killed and many injured. The San Francisco Labor Council sponsored the general strike, which lasted from July 15 to July 19 and was called off after employer concessions resulted in full recognition of the Longshoremen & Sailor's Union, and union control of hiring halls.

Several other Pacific coast ports did not escape from rioting. In Seattle, Mayor Charles L. Smith led the police, against the wishes of the chief of police, in opposing the attempts of pickets to disrupt work by strikebreakers. On July 7 a policeman was killed, and on the 11th four pickets were seriously wounded. The Portland, Ore., docks were also the scene of several clashes between strikers and strikebreakers who replaced them, and State troops were called out. [355]

6. Strikes and Violence in 1935

The year that witnessed the enactment of the Wagner Act showed little abatement of employer resistance to union organization. In all parts of the country, in small and large disputes alike, Governors were increasingly inclined to dispatch their troops to cope with strikers. Four disturbances that brought State troops to the strike scene were in coal and metalliferous mining, in addition to two in the lumber industry, and four in textiles. Troops also were sent to a strike in a meatpacking plant in South Dakota, and to another in an engine plant in Freeport, Ill. A streetcar strike in Omaha, Neb., and the general strike in Terre Haute, Ind., accounted for the other incidents. In some States troops were used in more than one dispute. For example, in Kentucky, State troops were sent to both Mannington and Harlan because of disorders at these places in connection with strikes. In Georgia, the Governor sent troops to three textile centers: La Grange, Mancheste and Monroe.172

Mining and textiles contributed most of the serious violence in 1935. An attempt to launch a dual union in the anthracite-coal fields caused serious conflict in that area between followers of the new and the old union. Clashes between the adherents of the United Anthracite Miners of Pennsylvania and the United Mine Workers of Americ resulted in a riot in which two were killed on February l4, and a large number injured. Even more serious was the fight at the Glen Alden collieries at Nottingham, Pa., on May 31, 1936. Five were killed and 21 hurt in this encounter. The United Anthracite Miners finally disbanded in October 1936.173 Differences between miners and operators in the unorganized areas also led to casualties. On October 28, one was killed and six others shot in St. Clare County, Ala., when they attempted to disrupt operation of a mine operating under nonunion conditions. The next day 10 were shot in Mannington, Ky., when they sought to prevent the opening of a nonunion mine.174

In Omaha a clash between striking streetcar men and strikebreakers was responsible for the death of two strike sympathizers and the wounding of a number of others. Governor R. L. Cochran immediately sent troops into the city. Other communities which reported deaths resulting [356] from violence in labor disputes were Rossville, Ga., during a textile walkout, and a strike at the Callaway mills in La Grange, Ga. Two fruit and vegetable strikers were killed in El Centra, Calif. A striking clay worker was killed in Toronto, Ohio, and a brewery picket in Stockton, Calif. The police of Eureka, Calif., killed four pickets in a lumber strike, and a picketing ornamental iron worker was shot to death in Minneapolis. Striking maritime workers in New Orleans, Houston, and Port Arthur, Tex., were killed, as were two striking iron miners in Alabama. Finally, a coal miner in Pikeville, Ky., and a striker at the Motor Products Corp. in Detroit lost their lives while picketing.175

Indiana also used its National Guard in labor disputes during 1935. It followed the calling of a general strike in support of 700 striking employees of the Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., who had left their jobs on March 23, 1935, in support of wage increases and a union shop. When the company brought in strikebreakers and guards from outside the State, 48 unions of the American Federation of Labor called a general strike. On July 22, Governor Paul V. McNutt sent 2,000 National Guardsmen to Columbus. Early the next day the troops charged a long line of pickets with clubs and tear gas. During the next several days almost 200 pickets were arrested by the troops. Martial law was not lifted until the following February.176

The violence that was common in the textile industry in 1934 continued into the following year. At La Grange, Ga., the National Guard was sent to maintain order after a disturbance during a strike which started in March. At the Monmouth textile mill in Union, S.C., a foreman and constable were killed during a riot on June 19. At Pelzer, S.C., a woman was killed and 22 persons were wounded when the sheriff and his deputies fired into a crowd of pickets. The sheriff was denounced for his unnecessary use of force. Troops were sent into the area, and a number of deputies were arrested. Later the parties worked out an agreement for ending the walkout.177

7. Violence in Labor Disputes in 1936

According to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau of the U.S. War Department, State troops were called out 11 times in 1936 in connection with labor disputes.178 These [357] troops were used in three textile strikes, in a coal strike, in an Idaho lumber workers strike, in a match factory in Cloquet, Minn., and in a clothing factory in New York State.179 Troops were mobilized in Pekin, Ill., during a walkout at the plant of the American Distilling Co., but the threat of a general strike prevented their use.

The most violent walkouts in 1936 were in the coal, steel, and textile industries, at least from the point of view of persons killed. A deputy sheriff was killed in a clash with pickets at the Samoset Mills at Talladega, Ala., on July 23. Subsequently another deputy was killed. Nor did the North completely escape. During a strike at the Acme Braid Co. at Closter, N.J., a picket was killed.180 Equally serious was the clash at the New Boston, Ohio, plant of the Wheeling Steel Co., where a guard was killed and four strikers wounded on June 29, 1936. Two weeks later the strike was settled and the union recognized.181 The mines were, as usual, a seat of trouble. At the Tennessee Coal & Iron Co. mines around Birmingham, Ala., rioting took place in early June and led to the wounding of five picket in a gun battle.182 Two pickets were killed in March 1936 in the strike of loggers at Willamette, Ore.; a striking seaman was killed in Houston, Tex.; and a spectator and picket in front of the plant of the Sun Shipbuilding Co. at Chester, Pa.183

8. Violence in Labor Disputes in 1937

By 1937, unions had been for 4 years the beneficiaries of Government legislation to protect their rights to organize and to bargain. Despite this, using the index of people killed in labor disputes, this year was one of the more bloody in the history of American labor violence. One dispute, the Little Steel strike, accounted for 16 deaths and many others seriously injured. In addition, an estimated eight other people died in industrial disturbances.184

The worst episode of the steel strike took place "in a stretch of flat, waste, sparsely inhabited prairie land east of and adjacent to the South Chicago plant of the [Republic] steel corporation."185 From the beginning of the strike, the police interfered with peaceful picketing; however, after Mayor Edward Kelly announced picketing would be permitted, 16 pickets were allowed before the gates. According [358] to his testimony, an anonymous source had informed Capt. James L. Mooney, who was in charge of police in the factory area, that the strikers planned to march into the steel plant on Memorial Day. Because its pickets had been arrested by the police, the union had called a protest meeting on May 30. The meeting was held, and a motion to establish a mass picket line before the plant was adopted. As the marchers reached the police lines, a discussion followed "for a period of from four to ten minutes."186 Within less than a minute thereafter "the strikers were in full retreat, in haste and confusion, before the advancing police lines. . . . Within that brief space of time, ten of the strikers received fatal gunshot wounds, thirty others were wounded by bullets and some sixty others received lacerations and contusions of varying intensity. Thirty-five police received minor injuries."187 The Senate committee found --

That the provocation for the police assault did not go beyond abusive language and the throwing of isolated missiles from the rear ranks of the marchers. We believe that it might have been possible to disperse the crowd without the use of weapons.... From all the evidence we think it plain that the force employed by the police was far in excess of that which the occasion required. Its use must be ascribed either to gross inefficiency in the performance of the police duty, or a deliberate effort to intimidate the strikers.188

On June 19, 1937, the police tried to disperse a small crowd meeting near the Republic mill gate on company property. When the women in the crowd defied the order, the police threw tear gas bombs at them. One was killed. Ten, including four deputy sheriffs, were wounded, and several others injured or overcome by tear gas. James Mayo, the director of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, claimed the women were sitting peacefully, and when they refused to move at the orders of the police, they were pelted with tear gas bombs.189 In another outbreak:

At approximately 11 o'clock on the night of July 11, three persons received fatal injuries and an undetermined number were injured by gunfire and gas fumes when special and regular police officers . . . dispersed a crowd of strikers and strike sympathizers at CIO headquarters . . . in the city of Massillon. Witnesses . . . claimed. . . . the special and regular police in a murderous and unprovoked assault on CIO headquarters, pursuant to a plan to destroy the union and break the strike.190
[359] In Cleveland, Ohio, a picket was killed when a car driven by a strikebreaker crashed into him while he was trying to halt it.191 Units of the State militia were sent to Canton and Youngstown.

The extent of the violence is summarized in La Follette committee reports. It found that the riots which occurred at Republic Steel Corp. plants during the Little Steel strike of 1937 resulted in the following: total gunshot wounds, 37; injuries other than gunshot, 202; buckshot wounds, 1; birdshot wounds, 17; established and possibly permanent injuries, 19; dead, 16, for a total dead and injured of 283. In addition, one policeman received a bullet wound, two birdshot wounds; injuries, 37; for a total of 40.192 It was the opinion of Robert Wohlforth, the secretary of the La Follette committee, that during the Little Steel strike --

a mobilization of men, money and munitions occurred which has not been approached in the history of labor disputes in recent times. Although known to be incomplete, the committee has assembled data showing that a total of 7,000 men were directly employed as guards, patrolmen, deputy sheriffs, National Guardsmen, city police and company police on strike duty. Over $4,000,000 was expended directly attributable to the strike. A total of $141,000 worth of industrial munitions was assembled for use.193
The violence in the Little Steel strike came largely from the aggressive behavior of the police and company guards. The strike was lost on the picket line and, in this respect, resembled the pattern of past events in the steel and many other industries. However, the union gained recognition and with it collective bargaining was established in Little Steel, as a result of the application and enforcement of the Wagner Act by the NLRB and the courts.

9. Other Violent Events in 1937

There were a number of other violent encounters in 1937, the most serious at the plant of Aluminum Co. in Alcoa, Tenn. Refusal of the company to equalize wages with its Northern plants was the cause of the walkout. On July 7, 1937, a melee started when an effort was made to prevent a truck from entering through the factory gates. Firing began, and 2 were killed and 28 wounded. The dead were a striker and a special policeman, and two of the wounded were police. Troops were sent to the scene, and [360] they restored order. Negotiations were then begun, and the strike was settled on July 11.194

Accidents also figured in fatal casualties. For example, in the walkout in June and July, 1937, at the Fein Tin Can Co. at Brooklyn, N.Y., a picket was killed. The United Radio & Electric Workers Union charged it was the result of police brutality, but the evidence indicated that the picket had suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a flying brick.195 In another instance, in a strike of furniture workers at Lloyd Manufacturing Co. at Menominee, Mich., a picket tried to prevent a car from entering through the factory gate and mounted the bumper of a car driven by a nonstriking worker. He fell from the bumper and was killed.196

Deaths marked other disputes during this year. A picket was killed during a strike at the Moltrop Steel Products Co. of Beaver Falls, Pa., in June 1937 after being struck by a teargas cartridge fired by a deputy seeking to disperse the strikers. Another picket was killed at the gates of the Phillips Packing Co. of Cambridge, Md.197


The year 1937 saw the last of the great strike spectaculars in which the clash of armed forces or large-scale assaults led to heavy casualties. Violence continued to accompany some labor disputes, and each year produced new victims, but the level of violence was substantially and permanently lowered. The 1938 strike at the Northwestern Barbed Wire & Rod Co. involved a dispute between the Steel Workers Organizing Committee and an American Federation of Labor union. The former had held a contract with the company which the employer refused to renew. On March 1, a battle between strikers and deputy sheriffs led to the death of one of the pickets, and the serious wounding of two others. One of the latter required the amputation of a leg as a result of wounds. On the next day, workmen who had left their shifts and were on their way home encountered a group of deputy sheriffs. Because the deputies held guns in their hands, the workers mistook them for pickets ready to attack them and the workers opened fire. The deputies defended themselves. Three were wounded, one a deputy. It was agreed after the riot that an [361] election by the National Labor Relations Board was determine the bargaining agent.198

In a riot at the Rice Brothers cannery at Corpus Christi, a battle between pickets and boatmen led to the killing of one and the wounding of another. Chris Clarick, an official of the United Cannery, Pickers & Agricultural Workers Union, who did the shooting, was himself severely beaten and was in serious condition at a Corpus Christi hospital. Clarick was later tried and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.199 In the strike of the Lone Star Bag & Bagging Co. by the Textile Workers Organizing Committee, pickets attempted on March 26, 1939, to block the entrance to the factory and a fight ensued. The employee seeking to block the entrance to the plant left his truck and it rolled down an incline injuring a number of pickets, one of whom subsequently died. The driver of the truck was arrested, tried, and fined $200 and costs.200

One striker was killed during the strike at the Del Prado Hotel in Chicago in March 1938, and another before the plant of the Oscar Nebel Hosiery Co. at Hatboro, Pa., in September. In addition to the above incidents, a serious riot took place in front of the Maytag Washing Machine Co. in Newton, Iowa. The rioting brought a proclamation of martial law and State troops into the city. They remaina in the community between July 19 and August 15. Order was restored and the CIO union was, in the end, recognized.201 Troops were also ordered into Sioux City during a strike at the plant of the Swift Packing Co. Charging there existed serious threats to life and property, the National Guard was ordered into the city on October 19, 1938, and they remained until November 19. Eventually the company and the Packinghouse Worker's Union agreed to a contract.202 In all, there were six deaths in the course of labor disputes in 1938.

In 1939 there was a striking decline in the use of militia in labor disputes. The Kentucky National Guard was sent to protect the Malan-Ellison Mine in Harlan, where a dispute had arisen. Three miners were killed in Harlan and one more elsewhere before the trouble subsided. Another dispute over the signing of a contract led to the wounding of seven men, two of them officers of the Hart Coal Co.203 The Massachusetts Guard was sent to the Barre Textile plant during a strike of textile workers who were blocking [362] strikebreakers from entering the plant. The Guard restored order.204 In addition, a member of the Hodcarriers & Common Laborer's Union died during a strike in Millersburg, Ind.; a strike of fishermen in New Orleans and another against the Cairo Meal & Cake Co. were each responsible for the death of one person. Finally, two teamster strikes led to deaths, one in Boston involving a trucking company and the other in an incident growing out of a large chain department store strike.


By 1940, union organizations entered into a new phase of growth and security. Strikes took on more and more their contemporary character of an economic conflict attended with minor violent episodes. This period was one of serious turbulence in the labor market. The shift to war production was accompanied by widespread dislocations. The subsequent reconversion to a peacetime economy was a challenge to the new industrial relations. The continual increase in union membership and union strength resulted in record-high numbers of strikes over important issues at the end of this period.

In 1940, there were seven deaths in labor disputes. While people were killed in most of the subsequent years, the incidents which generated violence were sporadic clashes and usually involved few workers. Private guards were involved in only two fatal disputes in this 7-year period. The first occurred during 1940 in a building trades strike, when a picket was shot in the back by two guards, both of whom were indicted.205 The other incident, the wounding of a picket who later died, occurred at the Phelps-Dodge plant on July 30, 1946. This was the result of a violent encounter. The union charged that the picket was shot by a guard at the plant; on the other hand, 14 officials of the United Electrical Workers Union were charged with having stormed the company's wharf in an attempt to prevent strikebreakers from going to work.206

The coal industry continued to produce a disproportionate share of violence. In 1940, one man was killed and two were wounded while peacefully picketing a coal mine in Ohio. "The tragedy roused the miners to a high pitch and the killer decided to remain in jail for the time being [363] under the protection of the sheriff. He said he fired because one of his brothers was assaulted."207 In 1942, nine killings took place in three separate incidents in the Kentucky coal mines. In April the president and vice president of the coal company at Middleboro were shot to death along with a miner and a deputy sheriff.208

A rising share of violent clashes was caused by jurisdictional disputes. In June 1940, a nonstriking bus driver, who was a member of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway & Motor Coach Employees, was killed in a jurisdictional dispute with the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. The latter union regretted the violence and "death of a strikebreaker" and claimed that the deceased had "invited a fight, and provoked the assault which resulted in his unfortunate death, and members of the Brotherhood are in no way responsible for the incident." The Amalgamated eventually defeated the trainmen in an NLRB representation election.209 One of the more grave disputes of 1941 took place in a suburb outside of St. Louis, Mo., and involved a fight between unionized and unorganized building tradesmen. One man was shot to death, four were wounded, and a number of others were beaten in a battle between the two groups.

About thirty shots were fired from pistols, rifles, and shotgun, bricks were thrown and clubs and wrenches swung as two hundred non-union employees of the Schuermann Building and Real Estate Company marched on a line of fifty-nine pickets. The pickets were routed ... As they approached the picket line, they yelled -- "We're going to chase them -- law or no law." Thereupon they pushed few deputies out of the way and walked toward the pickets pounding on automobile tops and smashing windows as they went.210
Although the report was that this dispute was between organized and unorganized building tradesmen, it was also reported that --
seven hundred CIO members in automobiles and on foot guarded truckloads of materials being delivered ... to Country Club Hills, the Schuermann development. . . . The trucks were driven by members of the CIO Quarry Worker's Union Local 261. Joseph Lynch, secretary, said the business agent of the AFL Laborer's Union had warned the CIO drivers not to deliver materials to Schuermann projects. Lynch said more CIO guards would be obtained, if necessary, to continue truck deliveries.211
[364] The efforts of the Progressive Mine Workers to replace the United Mine Workers ended in the killing of two miners in Kentucky in 1941.212 The same year also witnessed a fatal stabbing of a picket during a clash between two rival CIO unions, the Playthings & Novelty Workers union and District 65 of the Wholesale and Warehouse Worker's Union213 and a similar death in Flint, Mich., as a result of differences between an AFL and CIO locals of culinary workers.214

The National Guard was seldom employed during this period. Alabama sent the militia to restore order in 1941 at the Utica Mills at Aniston, to Gadsden for 8 days at a strike at the Republic Steel plant there, and on two occasions to police strike activities at the Tennessee Coal & Iron Railroad.215 The sporadic and at times accidental nature of the remaining violent disputes is readily apparent by enumerating them. An organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in New York City was killed in 1940 after a scuffle with the owner of a nonunion shop.216 Two months later, a strike at the St. Louis plant of the Century Electric Co., resulted in the death by stabbing of a striker after a fight with a strikebreaker. Local officers of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers charged that the company had armed strikebreakers with knives, sharpened files, and baseball bats.217 Soon after this, the IBEW conducted a strike at the Triangle Conduit & Cable Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., where, 7 weeks after the start of the strike, 2,000 pickets tried to prevent the entrance into the plant of strikebreakers. One of the pickets died "of a heart attack brought on by the excitement." Later, several local officers were indicted for rioting.218

In 1941 a picket was killed during a strike at the Andrew Jackson Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., while another picket at about the same time died when he was hit by a board at the Currier Lumber Co. yard in Detroit.219 One striker was killed by a shotgun blast in a strike of the Ed Friedrich Co. in San Antonio. It was claimed that the striker had stoned the home of one man who had remained on the job.220

There was only one reported death in a labor dispute in 1942; it occurred during a wildcat strike at the Detroit facility of the Aluminum Co. One employee who refused to join in the unauthorized walkout, which lasted 36 hours, [365] was struck by a striker and died from a skull fracture. The assailant was arrested.221

The remaining years in the period 1940-46 showed only modest violence. In Charleston, S.C., a shooting incident in 1943 ended in the death of an individual at a war-housing construction project in the midst of a dispute between the Operating Engineer's Union and building contractors.222 While no deaths were recorded in 1944, one person lost his life in 1945 in the strike of the Food, Tobacco & Agricultural Worker's Union at the Southern Cotton Co. at Little Rock, Ark.223 The same union was involved in one of the two fatal strikes in 1946. Negotiations over contract terms broke down and a strike took place at the Muskogee Materials Co. in Oklahoma. One striker was knifed by a strikebreaker and subsequently died. An unusually bloody affair took place at a strike on the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad in the same year. The cause of the strike was the attempt of the railroad's president, George McNair, to compel changes in work rules. All service trades and shop employees went out on strike and two of the strikers as well as McNair were killed. The latter was shot by an assailant who was never caught.224


The passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 had numerous causes, including a continuing resentment by some employers' groups of the Wagner Act, the postwar strike wave, and patent abuses by some unions. Whatever consequences of the newly imposed legal restraints upon union activities may have been, the Taft-Hartley Act did not in any significant way diminish the protection accorded to unions by the Wagner Act. Public policy in support of the principles and procedures of collective bargaining remained unchanged. Changes in union membership responded more to the level of employment and unemployment than to the changes in the laws governing labor management relations.

Violence, however, was not completely erased from the labor-management scene and several strikes appeared to resemble outwardly the industrial disputes of another day. [366] However, even those in which violence took place lacked the ferocity of the battles of the pre-Wagner Act days. These incidents seem to demonstrate that the potential for violence is always present in industrial disputes in the United States, but they do not, in most instances, show the relentless bitterness of Homestead, Pullman, Ludlow, and many other affrays which desecrated the industrial landscape of earlier periods. Using fatalities as an index of violence, the comparative numbers are very small considering the high number of labor disputes, and even more the millions of workers who are covered by collective-bargaining agreements peacefully renewed at periodic intervals (see table 8-1).

As in the past, violent strikes in this period exhibit little if any regularity. But some differences emerge that largely confirm certain trends in 1940-46. There is decreasing resort to the National Guard, and assaults on strikers by company guards have been all but eliminated. Industries such as coal that have been a fertile source of past violence have become pacified and no longer provide exceptional

Table 8-1.

Number killed and wounded and number of times militia was called in labor disputes (1947-62)
Illinois, Iowa31
1953West Virginia14
Southern R.R. States1(b)
1958New York12
1961New York1
a Statistics available usually in connection with strikes involving fatalities.
b Several.

bloody episodes. Geographically, violence continues to be widely dispersed, although the data suggest that violence [367] tends to occur more frequently in the South and Midwest and less often in the Northeast and the Far West. Most of the deaths in these strikes were accidental, in the sense that violence was not part of a systematic campaign by either the union or the employer. Some deaths were a result of a brawl between pickets and strike replacements, which has been the single most important source of all strike violence. Indeed, many strikes that had been peaceful were converted to battles on the first day that a back-to-work movement started. Occasionally, violence took place away from the struck facility, sometimes under circumstances in which it is difficult to disentangle personal elements from the labor controversy.

To be sure, there were strikes which had all the hallmarks of past struggles. The national strike of the CIO Packinghouse Workers against several packing companies in 1948 was accompanied by killings, disorder, and the National Guard. In this strike, the police in Kansas City, Kans., raided the union hall, destroyed furniture, and attacked those present. In 1955, during a strike on the Louisville & National Railroad, injuries and a death resulted from clashes between pickets and strikebreakers. Bridges were dynamited and rolling stock damaged, and the railroad was the victim of continual vandalism.

By and large, however, the most publicized strikes in this period, while bitter and prolonged and full of disorder and assaults, did not result in killings. These strike spectaculars -- Kohler, Square-D, Perfect Circle, Southern Bell -- were all widespread and usually accompanied by minor acts of violence, which in a few cases were quite grave and resulted in more or less extensive amounts of property damage. The worst of these strikes was that involving the Perfect Circle Co. and the UAW, in which both sides were plainly guilty of violence. The Perfect Circle Co. was the only employer of this group that did not settle the strike by beginning or resuming collective bargaining relationships with its union. However, it should be noted that in due time this company eventually recognized the union that had been decertified in three out of its four plants after the strike. [368]


The most informative source of the extent of contemporary violence is found in the records of the National Labor Relations Board. In Section 8(b)(1)(A) of the Taft-Hartley Act, Congress gave the Board power "to proceed against union tactics involving violence, intimidation and reprisal or threats thereof."225 In interpreting this section, the Board commented that ". . . Congress sought to fix the rules of the game, to insure that strikes and other organizational activities of employees were conducted peaceably by persuasion and propaganda and not by physical force, or threats of force or of economic reprisal."226 In fiscal 1968, the Board closed 12 cases after the entry of a Board order or court decree in which unions had been found to have engaged in some act or acts of violence. Moreover, 14 Board regional offices for the same period closed informally 38 other such cases.227 These regions handle roughly half of the agency's total case load and include New England, parts of metropolitan New York and Chicago, the industrial areas of Pittsburgh and Detroit, the Southeastern states, the Midwest, and part of Texas, and the Far West. On the assumption that the unreported half of the United States would have exhibited about the same number of violent labor cases, we may conclude that there were 80 to 100 cases of unlawful acts with some degree of violence committed by labor unions and involving the NLRB in this 12-month period.

1. Informal NLRB Cases of Labor Violence

In 19 of the 38 informally closed cases, the unlawful activities arose out of a strike over the terms and conditions of employment; in nine others the major issue was union recognition. However, the instability of bargaining is reflected in the fact that seven of the economic strikes involved unions which had either just won bargaining rights through a NLRB election or had only negotiated one contract with the charging employer. There were three cases in which rival union claims played a part and the contents of the remaining cases were either unknown or unclassifiable. [369]

2. Violence Arising Out of Disputes Over the Terms of a Contract

An example of present-day violence occurred during a strike between District 50, United Mine Workers, and a manufacturer of iron castings in a small Michigan city. Despite a long history of collective bargaining, a strike of the 85 employees for a new contract that took place on March 13, 1967, lost its peaceful character on March 30 when some pickets were armed with baseball bats. It was alleged that an employer representative and two strike replacements were assaulted by several pickets and formal complaints were made to the police. The employer had been operating the plant at a reduced scale using supervisors and hiring strike replacements from any source. The alleged assailants were not union officers, but the Board imputed agency responsibility to the union on the grounds that this conduct took place under a controlled picket line. The regional office settled the case informally with the union and the employer, on the grounds that the picketin was otherwise peaceful, that no further violence was reported, and that a local court had issued a temporary restraining order directed against the violence. The settlement agreement provided for the usual remedy within the scope of normal Board procedures, that is, the agreement of the union to cease its unlawful activities and post a notice to its members to this effect. The strike continued after the closing of the case and the company's operations remained unaffected by the peaceful picketing.

A different outcome ended another strike in which unlawful activities were more extensive. Machinists began a strike on May 2, 1967, after fruitless bargaining with a manufacturer of industrial tools in a Chicago suburb with whom it had long enjoyed a bargaining relationship. The strike was peaceful, with the 138 nonunion represented employees being permitted free access to and from the plant until September 5 and 6, when 100 union pickets massed in front of the plant gates kept most of them out. Threats were directed at the nonstriking employees such as, "You're not wanted here. Leave while you still can," and "We know you and if you think anything of your family, you will get out of here." There was some shoving by pickets, rock throwing, tearing of sideview mirrors from cars, and [370] several incidents of individual intimidations and harassments. The employer secured a State court injunction on September 18, although the violence had ended more than 10 days before. The region issued a complaint but prior to a formal hearing the company withdrew the charge on December 11, 1967, since a new contract was signed. On the basis that the unlawful activity had terminated, the Board accepted the withdrawal.

The pattern of illegal activities which constitutes violence and coercion subject to the jurisdiction of the Labor Board is rarely changed. Frequently there is some blocking of plant ingress and egress, occasionally the laying of nails "by persons unknown" on the plant driveway, sometimes allegations that sugar or other foreign material is put in the gas tanks of company and nonstriking employees' vehicles, accusations of object throwing which may include rocks, eggs, or paint, some physical scuffling or pushing, and always the making of threats. Damage to company plant is rarely observable in these cases, although vehicles standing in the street appear to be fair game. In very few cases does more violence take place, such as physical assaults or the following and harassing of drivers of company trucks on the highways and at stops. In several cases, union pickets were found in front of the homes of working employees with signs imputing the worst sins of humanity to those who cross picket lines. In all cases but one the union's coercive conduct was limited in time and ceased after the filing of a charge with the Board or the obtaining of a State court injunction. Indeed, in 11 cases of the 38 informally adjusted cases, court orders were obtained by the employer.

In only one instance did unlawful activities continue during the NLRB investigation, and this strike was by far the most violent of 1967 which was closed by the, Board. A longtime bargaining relationship was ruptured by a strike for improved conditions of the Papermaker's union at a paper products manufacturing plant in a small town in western Massachusetts. The strike was peaceful from its start on October 28 until November 17, at which time a truck driver crossing the picket line was physically assaulted and his truck damaged. Thereafter mass picketing began, reaching its maximum strength on November 29 and 30, with many threats of physical coercion made. A [371] complete blockage of entrance and exit excluded all employees including clerical, supervisory, and managerial personnel. The violence included some damage to the plant and its appurtenances, assaults with clubs upon some individuals trying to enter the plants, and striking and rocking vehicles in which the attempts were made. The employer obtained a State court temporary restraining order that was exceedingly narrow in scope and limited the court's protection to only three maintenance employees who provided the plant's heat. The judge denied a broader injunction without stating any reason. There were only two officers in the local police force, who were unable to control the situation; their requests for assistance from the State police were unanswered. On December 4, the employer requested that the NLRB obtain an injunction under the authority of section (10) (j) of the act, which was supported by the regional office on December 5, and authorized by Washington on the following day. By December 8 the union agreed to cease all unlawful activities, which it promptly did. The union's agreement was incorporated in an informal settlement agreement. The return of peace led to fruitful negotiations and by December 18 the parties had negotiate a new contract. In light of the postviolent union behavior, the settlement agreement was approved by the Board.

The low level of violence of most of the cases that emerge from stalemated bargaining can be seen by examining an episode involving white-collar workers. A strike of announcers and salesmen at a Detroit radio station resulted in a union agreement with the NLRB not to coerce nonstrikers. The facts which underlay the Board determination of a violation of section (8) (b) (1) (a) included such threats as "I may be your friend, but if you try to cross that line, I will be all over you," and "Well, you better bring your army with you because no one is going to walk in that door tomorrow morning at 8:00." No other "violence" accompanied the strike and the union's coercive conduct was corrected by the normal remedy of agreeing to cease issuing threats.

3. Violence Arising Out of Union Demand for Recognition

The existence of Board machinery for determining a union's representation status has eliminated this issue from [372] its previously predominant role as a cause for strikes. The number of such cases involving coercive union behavior is very low. Two situations involved the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union which established a number of pickets in front of a small plant during an organizational campaign. In both cases, the sole unlawful activity, which was corrected by the filing of the charge, was interference with free movement to and from the plant.

However, in two other 1967 cases the union's unlawful behavior was overshadowed by illegal employer conduct. A machinist's organizing campaign against a Chicago manufacturer was countered by employer unfair-labor practices which included discharges of seven union supporters and widespread threats of reprisals against other employees. This company's unlawful behavior resulted in a strike by a minority of workers. The cars of some of the pickets were damaged, and their work clothes and other personal property left in the plant were vandalized. Moreover, some strikers received threatening phone calls at their homes. Charges filed by the union with the NLRB resulted in a determination that the company behavior was unlawful and complaints were issued. The employer also filed charges with the Board alleging union violence, which consisted of the scratching of one car by pickets, tampering with the airbrakes on a truck, and one threat to a supervisor. Since these activities constituted a violation of section (8) (b) (1) (a), a non-Board settlement of all charges was agreed upon. Reinstatement and backpay was offered to the dischargees and both the employer and the union agreed to stop all unlawful acts.

In the second case, after an uneventful bargaining history of 16 years, negotiations broke down for a new contract when a Massachusetts employer insisted upon a "word-for-word, comma-for-comma" renewal of the old agreement as a condition for discussing wages. The Textile Workers' Union, after a unanimous vote, went on strike. The employer refused to meet the union after the strike, met secretly with some of the employees, distributed and collected "decertification cards," set up a new union, provided facilities and an attorney for the new union, and recognized and signed a contract with it, after declining to recognize the Textile Workers' Union. The Textile Workers' Union filed charges which the region found to be [373] meritorious. The strike was peaceful except for one dent involving a nonstriking employee who reported being assaulted by three pickets. It seems a scuffle did take place, although the nonstriker was a male who was six foot two and weighed over 220 pounds, while the pickets were women ranging in age from their early fifties to late sixties. Several weeks after this episode, the strike was ended with the renewal of an agreement with the Textile union, the repudiation of the company union, and a withdrawal of all charges.

4. Violence Arising Out of Jurisdictional Disputes in 1967

The disaffiliation of most of the officers and members a local of Brewery workers to the United Auto Workers in a Michigan factory resulted in a strike led by the UAW. Mass picketing, threats to nonstrikers, and the damaging of vehicles led to filing of charges and the securing of a State court injunction. The union's coercive acts were brief and ceased in compliance with a Board adjustment and the court order.

A conflict between the Carpenters and the Teamsters' Union produced a tangled skein of charges alleging violations by both of many sections of the act. The basic facts indicate that a Chicago firm recognized and executed a contract with the Carpenters Union at a time when that union had no members in the unit, which included drivers and dockmen who were members of the Teamsters. The subsequent Teamster picketing included violations of the act's secondary boycott prohibitions. The teamsters also engaged in threats of physical harm to some employees, rock throwing, and the following and harassing of trucks on the highway. Complaints were issued against both unions and the employer but, subsequent to a hearing, all parties agreed to dispose of the issue by holding of a representation election in the disputed unit. On this basis, all charges were withdrawn.

5. Formal NLRB Cases Involving Violence in Fiscal 1968

Formal cases differ from adjusted NLRB cases in that Board orders and/or court decrees are entered against the respondents. Of course, violations of a court order may [374] constitute contempt of court. Of the 12 cases closed in this category, 8 developed out of a breakdown in negotiations while 4 orginated in organizational efforts. The unlawful activities in these cases do not differ fundamentally from adjusted situations; the pattern consists of threats, mass picketing, blocking and shoving, occasional assaults, damage to cars, rock throwing, and the like. In six of these cases there was no litigation inasmuch as the union consented to the entry of a Board order and court decree on the basis of a written stipulation of facts and the applicable law.

6. Uncontrolled Labor Violence and the Board

The reduction of union-caused violence cannot be exclusively attributed to the impact of section (8)(b)(l)(a), although this section has a direct bearing upon such unlawful acts. With rare exceptions, as is noted in our description of Board cases, local law enforcement agencies supported by State courts are able to control union violence. The power of the State, now as in the past, is usually competent to protect employers' property interests, including the safeguarding of free ingress to and egress from a struck plant. However, in the event of a breakdown of local law enforcement, the Board is empowered under section (10) (j) of the Taft-Hartley Act to secure an injunction from a Federal district court. Since 1947 there have been 11 occasions where such an injunction has been obtained. In all of these cases, uncontrolled mass picketing and large-scale incidents of violence and threats of violence were responsible for the Board's intervention. It also should be noted that the enforcement of a Federal court order is invariably swift and effective. Of course, the significance of section (10)(j) cannot be measured alone by the number of times it was used. The prospect of its use, as observed in one of the Board cases discussed above, is ordinarily sufficient to stop violent behavior.

7. Other Sources of Data on Labor Violence

Attempts were made to secure data on violence from such obvious sources as local police departments and the U.S. Department of Justice. Unfortunately, time limitations [375] forbade any extensive collection of information. Police manuals from a number of cities throughout the country revealed that police departments were highly sensitive to the disorders inherent in labor disputes and a number of cities specified in considerable detail appropriate police procedures. All of these were directed at insuring open picket lines and freedom of movement of people and goods across them. At the same time, police officers were cautioned to maintain neutrality and impartiality in maintaining order. The records of the Labor Board indicate that these instructions were ordinarily executed with considerable fidelity, although the enthusiasm with which police carried out their orders varied with local conditions. There were times when police allegedly turned their backs at minor outbursts of picket line violence; on the other hand, unions charged that the contrary often took place. In one Board case a union representative claimed: "Any time a driver either refused or hesitated to make a delivery, the police showed up." We were given access to the full records of a major northern industrial city's police department which revealed an almost complete absence of labor violence over a 4-year period. During this time only one arrest was made, and that involved a fist fight between a picket and a customer of a struck store.

We were also given summaries of major complaints of labor violence made to the Federal Bureau of Investigatio from 1961 to 1967. The Department of Justice informed us that most of the other complaints were about small-scale damage to property whose isolated nature and remoteness in affecting commerce precluded Federal action. Property damage was also the most significant characteristic of the major complaints of labor violence made to the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1961 to 1967. Th use of dynamite was reported in 1961 and 1963 during a jurisdictional dispute on the Great Lakes. Explosions were reported on the Wabash Railroad in 1963, and on the New York Central Railroad in the same year. The most serious incidents of property damage occurred during disputes with employers with extensive and exposed property holdings. A strike of the IBEW against the Alabama Power Co. in 1966 was accomplished by 50 acts of sabotage, including the draining of oil from transformers, placing of chains across powerlines, severing of guy wires on [376] transmission line poles, the destruction of power equipment by gunfire, and the like. Also in 1966 a labor dispute between the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers' Union and the United Fuel Gas Co. was followed by dynamiting 24 company pipelines in West Virginia and Kentucky as well as other property damage. A strike at the Illinois Consolidated Telephone Co. also witnessed dynamiting of company facilities at a number of places. Other instances included dynamiting of a construction company's earth-moving and Caterpillar tractors in Huntington, Ind., and dynamite damage to machinery of a California timber company.

In none of the above disputes did personal injuries or deaths occur. Assaults against individuals took place, however, in four strikes. In February 1964, a truck carrying 11 temporary employees of a Chicago firm was overturned by 50 strikers. The injuries were unrecorded. In June of the same year, a Molotov cocktail was thrown through a window of a nonstriking employee in an Illinois strike. Again no information is available for casualties. A strike among employees of a Florida telephone company in 1967 witnessed several dynamiting incidents and the shooting of several employees. The assailants and the circumstances surrounding these incidents are unknown to the writers.

The most serious recent violent strike involved steel hauler owner-operators in 1967, whose dissatisfaction with the Teamsters Union to which they belonged generated more than 50 serious incidents of violence. In their attempt to secure better representation, the dissident Teamsters attempted to intimidate other drivers by acts of violence, including the throwing of fire bombs and rocks. One death and another serious injury were reported.

From time to time the newspapers report outbreaks of strike violence such as in the 1962 Florida East Coast Railroad strike and in the recent dispute between the Steelworkers Union and the Lone Star Steel Co. in Texas. The latter strike has been marked by beatings, shootings, and threats and has required the intervention of the Texas Rangers. It is noteworthy that in describing this strike in its story heading, the Wall Street Journal said: "Shades of the 1930's: Violent Steel Strike Rocks a Steel Producer in Texas."228 [377]

Apart from incidents of sabotage and destruction of property, most incidents of labor violence appear to end up in a NLRB charge. It is clearly in an employer's interest to make such charges, even in the ordinary case of minor coercion where little prospect of a Federal injunction exists. In these situations not only is the employer able mitigate any legal derelictions of his own, but he can establish his legal right to take reprisals against those strikers guilty of misconduct. This is particularly importan since many strike settlements founder on this issue because many employers adamantly refuse to reemploy employees who have participated in violent acts.

8. Other Evidence of the Diminution of Labor Violence

The diminution of the level of violence is attested to by its relatively scant treatment in congressional hearings since 1947. The essential concern of proponents of labor reform during the Taft-Hartley hearings was to deprive employee guilty of violence, threats, sitdown mass picketing, and other forms of intimidation of their reinstatement rights. It should be noted that past court decisions, in some instances overruling the Board, had eliminated the act's protection for employees engaging in the above practices. The McClellan committee's 1956-59 investigation of improper union and employer activities found no evidence of large-scale violence except in few cases such as the Kohler and Perfect Circle cases. However, the Landrum-Griffin Act contains prohibitions against threats and acts of violence and intimidation arising out of the management of internal union affairs. This is one of the least violated sections of the Landrum-Griffin Act. Other Federal statutes which touch upon labor violence, such as the Hobbs Act,229 have given rise to a handful of cases.

9. The Impact of the National Labor Relations Act Upon Violence

A fundamental purpose of the national labor policy, first enunciated by the Wagner Act and confirmed by its subsequent amendments in the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin Acts, was the substitution of orderly procedures for trials of combat. But in balancing the public interest in the [378] peaceful settlement of industrial disputes with the freedom of labor and management to work out their problems in light of their needs and experience, the law did not outlaw the exercise of economic force. Indeed, by endorsing collective bargaining, the NLRA explicitly acknowledged that tests of strength, i.e., the infliction of economic harm, with all its costs and hardships, is superior to such alternatives as compulsory arbitration.

However, this approval of the strike, the picket line, and the maintenance of hard bargaining lines by employers and unions was limited by the establishment of specified rules of conduct imposed on all parties. Some subjects were removed as bargaining issues and are not subject to economic pressures. Foremost among these was the question of union recognition and with it the concomitant mutual obligation to bargain in good faith. The wishes of a majority of employees within an appropriate bargaining unit determined whether or not collective bargaining was to begin, and this determination could not be lawfully qualified or limited.

The workings of the majority-rule principle can best be appreciated by applying it to the major disputes of the past. Members of the bargaining committee that approached the Pullman company were fired and Pullman refused to deal with any committee of his employees. Charles Schwab, head of the Bethlehem Steel Co., announced during the 1910 strike, "I will not deal with union committees or organized labor," an attitude reiterated for the entire industry in 1919. This position was taken by employers in Michigan Copper, in the coal industry of Colorado and the major coalfields in West Virginia, and by others in the more violent strikes. Some employer associations were hostile to the principle of dealing with unions, and these groups included the leading firms in many industries. Because employer refusal to meet and deal with unions was the major cause of past violent labor strikes, the effective enforcement of the Wagner Act reduced sharply the number of such encounters.

This diminution of labor violence was not a temporary phenomenon but endured the strains of major and minor wars, a number of business cycles, and substantial changes in national and local political administrations. Moreover, the social and economic environment in post-New Deal America was scarcely conducive to the pacific resolution of disputes of any kind. The reconversion of American [379] industry after World War II brought on the greatest strike wave in our history. Yet, these mammoth strikes were accompanied by virtually no violence, completely at variant with the experience after 1918.

The contribution of the NLRA in sustaining the reduction in the number and severity of sanguinary labor clashes went beyond prescribing enforcible bargaining behavior. The law supported the right to organize of labor unions but only on condition of avoidance of violence. Violence on a picket line is always latent but tends to surface when the employer recruits replacements and attempts to operate. Today, as always, employers have the legal right to move goods and people freely across a picket line and the duty and practice of police has tended to safeguard this right. Moreover, employees who engage in violence forfeit the protection of the act, which is a restraining influence upon them. The diminution of violence on labor's side has correspondingly lowered the propensity of employers to resort to force as either a defensive or aggressive tactic.


The United States has experienced more frequent and bloody labor violence than any other industrial nation. Its incidence and severity have, however, been sharply reduced in the last quarter of a century. The reduction is even more noteworthy when the larger number of union members, strikes, and labor-management agreements are considered. The magnitude of past violence is but partially revealed by available statistics. One writer estimated that in the bloody period between January 1, 1902, and September 30, 1904, 198 persons were killed and 1,966 injure in strikes and lockouts.230 Our own independent count, which grossly understates the casualties, records over 700 deaths and several thousands of serious injuries in labor disputes. In addition, we have been able to identify ove 160 occasions on which State and Federal troops have intervened in labor disputes.

The most common cause of past violent labor disputes was the denial of the right to organize through refusal to recognize the union, frequently associated with the discharge of union leaders. Knowledge of workers' resentment at their inability to join unions encouraged employers to [380] take defensive measures during strikes and lockouts. These measures often included the hiring of guards who, by their provocative behavior, often created the very conditions they had been engaged to minimize.

The melancholy record shows that no section of the United States was free from industrial violence, that its origin and nature were not due to the influence of the immigrant or the frontier, nor did it reflect a darker side of the American character. Labor violence was caused by the attitudes taken by labor and management in response to unresolved disputes. The virtual absence at present of violence in the coal and copper mines, breeding grounds for the more dramatic and tragic episodes, are eloquent testimony that labor violence from the 1870's to the 1930's was essentially shaped by prevailing attitudes on the relations between employer and employee. Once these were changed, a change accomplished partly by legal compulsion, violence was sharply reduced.

Employer Violence

Employers and unions were both guilty of violence. Employer violence frequently had the cover of law. No employer was legally bound to recognize the union of his employees. He has and always had the right to defend his property and maintain free access to the labor and commodity markets. In anticipation of trouble, the employer could call on the community police force, and depending upon size and financial ability, supplement them with protective auxiliaries of his own. Such actions usually had public support, for the employer was exercising a recognized right to self-defense, despite widespread recognition by many public leaders in and out of Government of the desirability, need, and justice of collective bargaining. In the absence of the authority and effective sanctions of protective labor legislation, many employers fought unionism with every weapon at their command, in the certainty that their hostility was both lawful and proper.

Union Violence

Facing inflexible opposition, union leaders and their members frequently found that nothing, neither peaceful [381] persuasion nor the intervention of heads of government, could move the employer towards recognition. Frustration and desperation impelled pickets to react to strikebreakers with anger. Many violent outbreaks followed efforts of strikers to restrain the entry of strikebreakers and raw materials into the struck plant. Such conduct, obviously illegal, opened the opportunity for forceful police measures. In the long run, the employers' side was better equipped for success. The use of force by pickets was illegal on its face, but the action of the police and company guards were in vindication of the employers' rights.

The effect of labor violence was almost always harmful to the union. There is little evidence that violence succeeds in gaining advantages for strikers. Not only does the rollcall of lost strikes confirm such a view, but the use of employer agents, disguised as union members or union officials for advocating violence within the union, testifies to the advantage such practices gave the employer. There were a few situations, in areas made vulnerable by their openness such as a strike in municipal transportation or involving teamsters, where violence was effective in gaining a favorable settlement. Even here, however, such as in the Teamsters strike in Chicago in 1905, the violence often failed. The most sensational campaigns of the Western Federation of Miners to bring their opponents to heel by the use of force were unsuccessful, and the union was virtually driven out of its stronghold. The campaign of dynamiting of the Iron Workers' Union ended in the conviction of the McNamaras. Subsequent convictions of a number of union leaders, including its president, who were convicted of transporting dynamite and of conspiracy in the Federal courts, almost wrecked the union. The campaign of violence carried on by the molders against the members of the antiunion National Founders Association failed to change the latters' policy.231

The right to organize was not retained in Homestead, or won in Pullman, the Colorado metal mines, Coeur d'Alene, or in the steel mills in 1919, although the sacrifice by union members, especially the rank and file members, was great. In fact, the victories gained by violent strikes are rather few, for the use of violence tends to bring about a hardening of attitudes and a weakening of the forces of peace and conciliation. A community might be sympathetic to the demands of strikers, but as soon as violent confrontations took [382] place, the possibility was high that interest would shift from concern for the acceptance of union demands to the stopping of the violence.

It is the violent encounters that have provided organized labor with its lists of martyrs, men and women who gave their lives in defense of the union and collective bargaining. The.role of martyrdom is not for us to assay, and may be useful in welding the solidarity of the group. The blood of the martyr may be the seed of the church, but in labor disputes it is doubtful if the sacrifices have been worth the results obtained. The evidence against the effectiveness of violence as a means of gaining concessions by labor in the United States is too overwhelming to be a matter of dispute.

Except for contemporary examples, we have not dealt with the numerous minor disturbances, some of them fairly serious, that were settled by the use of the normal police force. We have also generally avoided the many instances in which organizers and active unionists were denied their right to remain in communities or were the victims of local vigilante groups. We know that union organizers could not enter the closed coal towns, and that labor speakers could neither hire a hall nor speak in a public square in many communities. A number of coal counties in Kentucky and West Virginia built what amounted to an iron wall against the invasion of union organizers. The situation became worse during strikes. In the 1919 steel strike, the mayor of Duquesne, Pa., announced that "Jesus Christ could not hold a meeting in Duquesne," let alone the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor.

Sitdown Strikes

Some recent apostles of violence as a method of social reform point to the sitdown strikes in the 1930's as proof of the value of such tactics. The sitdown strike was the usual suspension of work, but instead of the employees leaving the premises of their employer, they remained within the plant. The tactic itself is not a violent one, although it is obviously an unlawful trespass upon another's property. However, these tactics were used against employers who had refused to grant recognition to the union, which during the great sitdown strikes in the plants of General Motors and the Chrysler Corp. were in violation [383] of the National Labor Relations Act. As a matter of fact, the sitdown strikes were exceptionally peaceful, given the circumstances, and there was only one serious confrontation between strikers and company guards during the strike at General Motors and, by the standards of the time, it can be described as a minor altercation. The beneficiaries of violence accompanying a sitdown strike are abundantly clear from the events surrounding a conventional recognition strike by the UAW against the Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge plant on April 1, 1941. According to the union, the company --

tried to take an illegal sitdown strike at the plant to discredits genuine strike and to obscure the legal demands of the Ford workers. A federal conciliator and a Ford advertising director, however, revealed that the sitdowners were a thousand strikebreakers hired by Ford to stage a demonstration of riot and disorder.232

The company's attempt to use the sitdown as a basis fj State and Federal armed intervention was unsuccessfu As a matter of fact, violence was used against the aut mobile workers who used the sitdown tactic. Not only we many discharged for joining the union, but the attack upon Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen and others a group of thugs under the direction of Harry Bennet,| charge of security at the Ford Motors Plant, was one J the more serious incidents in the organization of the indu try. In ruling that sitdown strikers lost the protectio against discharge for union activity guaranteed by t National Labor Relations Act, the U.S. Supreme Court said: "The seizure and holding of the buildings was a thin apart from any acts of sabotage. But in its legal aspei the ousting of the owner from lawful possession is ri essentially different from assault upon the officers of as employer."233 For our purposes, however, the distinctio between a trespass and a physical assault is meaning and important regardless of their legal equivalence. On it became known that by participation in a sitdown stri a discharged worker forfeits his reinstatement rights unt the law, the use of this tactic virtually ceased, and it has t been widely used since the above decision.

Persistence of Violence

We are, however, confronted with a paradox in that violence in labor disputes persisted even though it seldom achieved fruitful results. With few exceptions, labor violence was the result of isolated and usually unplanned acts on a picket line, or occurred during a prohibited parade or demonstration protesting employer obduracy or police brutality. It might also start by attempts of pickets to prevent the transportation of strikebreakers or goods, and a clash would follow police intervention. Where the employer refused to deal with the union, the possibility of eventual violence was always high. The desire of the American worker for union representation took place in the teeth of employer opposition that was able to impose heavy sanctions for union activity. The reproduction of conditions in which violence is spawned inevitably was followed by outbreaks of violence. Violence could be successfully repressed by superior forces but it could not be eliminated until its causes were removed.

The Reduction in Violence

The elimination in 1933 of the most important single cause of violence, refusal to recognize the union for purposes of collective bargaining, came about at the time when union membership was lower than it had been for 15 years. The first step taken was the adoption of section (7) (a) in the National Industrial Recovery Act, which guaranteed workers in industries operating under codes of fair competition the right to organize and bargain collectively through their own representatives. This provision was only partially effective in protecting the right to organize, but it was a significant beginning. Its successor, the National Labor Relations Act, with its amendments, has now been on the books for 33 years, and it is 31 years since it has been upheld by the Supreme Court. The sharp decline in L the level of industrial violence is one of the great achievements of the National Labor Relations Board.

It may have been a fortunate coincidence that the labor laws guaranteeing the right to organize were enacted at the time the character of business management was changing. The professional business executive, who has increasingly [385] come to dominate management, is not inclined to regard his business in the same sense as the head of a family-developed firm. He is more flexible in his thinking and more responsive to social and political changes. It may not be an accident that some of the bitterest contemporary labor disputes -- Kohler and Perfect Circle, for example -- took place in family-held businesses. The professional business leader is more detached, more pragmatic in his reactions, and knows that American business has sufficient resilience to adapt itself to free collective bargaining. The performance of American industry since the end of World War II demonstrates that union organization and collective bargaining are not incompatible with satisfactory profits and a high rate of technological change.

Violence has greatly diminished, but it has not entirely ceased. Between 80 and 100 proven charges of violence or coercion are closed annually by the National Labor Relations Board. In addition, reports of violence of varying seriousness appear periodically in the press. The charges that come before the Board that we have examined are largely based upon threats and generally minor picket-line incidents. In none of them did deaths or serious injuries occur. Nearly all of them, if they had taken place prior to the 1930's, would have been ignored in our study. Had we taken note of all the threats and picket line incidents prior to the 1930's, our study would have reached unmanageable proportions. Present-day violence is by and large the result of accidental and random events which occasionally erupt in a picket line confrontation.

Prospect of Reversion to Past Patterns of Violence

Has widescale violence been permanently erased from American industry? The reduction in violence in labor disputes has been accompanied by sharp increases in violent behavior in other areas of American life. This is no accident. The conditions that gave rise to past labor violence have been eliminated and a restoration of these conditions would lead to a reversion in conduct. Any tampering with the complex mechanism that governs our contemporary labor policy is an invitation towards unharnessing of the forces of violence and hate that we have successfully mastered. [386]

Labor and Other Forms of Violence

Can one draw more general conclusions from the labor experience, or are they peculiar to the problems of workers seeking to establish unions in industry? On many occasions the union operated in a hostile community, while minorities carry on their protests in their own friendly neighborhoods. Nevertheless, in both situations the reaction of the majority is likely to be decisive. There have been times where public sentiment was so strongly on the labor side that no matter what violence it committed, it ran no risk of estranging local public sentiment. Such was the case in Virden and in the far more questionable situation in Herrin. Usually, however, violence led to the alienation of public opinion and sometimes to a shift in public sentiment to approval of severe actions against the strike. The evidence is clear that the absence of violence committed by unions would not have retrieved many lost strikes. However, it appears highly probable that the advocacy or the practice of organized and systematic violence on the union side would have prevented the enactment of the New Deal labor legislation.

There is no evidence that majorities will supinely accept violence by minorities. The fact that rioters are fighting for a just cause or reacting to oppression has not, in the case of labor, led to the condoning of violence by the public. The desirability of collective bargaining had, prior to the 1930's, been endorsed by a number of public bodies, and all 20th-century Presidents of the United States. Such views were also sponsored by leading students in the field, legislators, clergymen, and others. Such approval did not save labor from severe repression.

It appears to us that it is a gross confusion of the problem to emphasize the creative character of violence as a guide to the behavior of minorities suffering from serious inequities and injustice. Creative violence obviously refers to the successful revolutions in England, the United States, France, and Russia. It appears to us that such a view is completely irrelevant if it is not vicious and highly misleading. We are concerned not with revolutionary uprisings, which such a view implies, but how a minority can achieve belated justice. Although we believe that minorities can obtain little through violence, we are also convinced, on [387] the basis of labor experience, that violence will continue unless attention is paid to the removal of grievances.

In some respects the violence in the ghettos resembm the kind that surrounded labor disputes; it arises without prior planning and out of isolated instances that may not repeat themselves. It is also highly probable that violence of this kind will be unproductive or even counterproductive, in that it will antagonize many who would normally support the claims of minorities for equal justice and opportunity. Yet the labor analogy with racial minorities can be pushed too far. Labor's grievances were specific and could be met by single or groups of employers with concession. The adverse effects of granting these concessions were small, injured few people, and employers could generally pass on any added costs to consumers. On the other hand, to the extent that the grievances of minorities are of a general nature and the meeting of their demands impinges upon the privileges of wide sections of the community, the resolution of their disputes is apt to be met with greater opposition.