Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bringing Back the Gilded Age

By now, most of you have heard of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's threat to replace state workers with the National Guard if he can't unilaterally destroy worker benefits and create a right-to-work state.

I want to emphasize Walker's specific intent in bringing up the National Guard. Conservatives have done their homework. In their desire to recapture the plutocracy of the Gilded Age, they  know how their ancestors crushed labor--through government sanctioned force. The Great Strike of 1877, the Homestead Strike of 1892, the Pullman Strike of 1894--these were all solved with state or federal violence. As Lila Shapiro wrote today, the last time a governor called out the National Guard to end a labor dispute in Wisconsin was in 1886 when soldiers fired into a crowd of unarmed picketers in Milwaukee fighting for an 8 hour day.* I don't know anything specific about this episode, but it was clearly related to the Knights of Labor-led struggle for that cause that ended with the Haymarket bomb.

Here's the thing--Republicans want Haymarket back. They want Pullman. They want Homestead. They want excuses to use the military to fire into crowds of protesters. Now, I don't think Walker is going to be successful. Unions and their supporters have come out in droves to protest Walker's actions. On the other hand, his extremist rhetoric may still force significant setbacks to state workers. For Republicans, those setbacks are but a step on the road to return America to 1886.

*Yes, I understand the irony of linking to an article about unions on a purportedly progressive website that treats its writers like academic adjuncts. I hate Huff Post with 12 shades of passion. But the article was good. So I link to it with this explanation.