AlterNet / By Mike Elk
Wisc. Governor Makes a Threat to Sic the National Guard on Union Workers
Will Scott Walker's talk of calling out the National Guard create a similar powder keg of violence? As Media Matters has documented, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and their fellow travelers have been provoking right-wing conspiracy theorists by referring to union leaders as “violent thugs” bent on taking over America. Multiple union leaders have received death threats from the Right's lunatic fringe.
The first time state militias were called out to stop striking workers was during the Great Railroad Strike of 1876, the first nation-wide labor action that shut down railroads from coast to coast. At the time, Thomas Alexander Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad told reporters the strikers should be given "a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread." State militia members joined side by side with private citizens and killed over 100 striking workers in a dozen cities across the United States. In Pittsburgh, over 50 strikers were killed in one of the bloodiest confrontations of the strike.
State militias, often aided by private militias like the Ku Klux Klan, would be called out on other occasions to wreak violence on workers demanding their rights. In 1887, the Louisiana militia, accompanied by a posse of "prominent citizens," killed 37 unarmed black sugar workers striking to demand a dollar-per-day wage.
Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who writes for Campaign for America's Future. He previously worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE).