We must learn what has gone on in the past so we dont repeat mistakes, but many have and do willfully forget or ignore history. The beginning of American union with the 1877 railroad strike is a lot like today's strikes in Wisconsin, and it began the new union movement in America, can we hope for such a great result this time?
"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."
Post Civil War America
With the end of the Civil War (1865), the United States experienced massive, unchecked expansion, especially in the railroad industry, with the help of government land grants and subsidies. Speculators fed large amounts of money into the industry, causing abnormal growth and over expansion. Just like real estate was a few years ago.
The 1870s saw a significant economic depression in the world. The effects of this downturn hit the United States hard on September 18, 1873, with the failure of the banking firm Jay Cooke and Company. The country slumped further and further. In response, the U.S. economy sputtered and then collapsed. Shortly after Cooke’s demise, the New York Stock Exchange closed for 10 days, credit dried up, foreclosures and factory closings became common. Unemployment reached 14 percent within 3 years, and a full recovery was not achieved for many years. The 1876 Presidential election had been close, dividing the nation and disenfranchising half of the population. Then the railroads began announcing wage cuts, first 10% and then few months later 10% more.
The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began on July 14 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and eventually spread through large swaths of the railroad industry in the East and Midwest. Many other groups of workers such as coal and steel, begin to strike in solidarity with the railroad workers (these groups are the beginning of unions, and are not yet called such).
“One spirit and one purpose among them–that they were justified in resorting to any means to break down the power of the corporations.”
Unknown Pittsburgh state militiaman
The Strike Winds Down
The Strike began to lose momentum when President Hayes sent federal troops from city to city. These troops suppressed strike after strike, until at last, approximately 45 days after it had started, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was over.
Power To The People
For workers and employers alike, the strikes had shown the power of workers in combination to challenge the status quo and led to the organizing of several labor unions in the United States. In fact in 1884 one of the biggest railroads targeted in the strike, the B&O, became the first major employer to offer a pension plan.
The Modern Parallel
Financial companies collapsing, an over inflated market taking down the economic system, unemployment, poverty, and strikes. Didn’t we already have this fight? If history truly does repeat itself, are we destined this year or next to have mass worker uprisings in succession with the normal economic inflation/depression cycle? Will there be National Guard on the streets assaulting Americans as there was in 1877 (and many other years too)?
The Little Guy
Wal-Mart made over $408 Billion dollars last year while mistreating workers, giving them low pay and benefits and then preaching how thankful everyone should be for the jobs they provide.
BP made $246 billion last year, even though it just destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and hundreds, maybe even thousands of jobs, and ignored safety and environmental regulations.
In 2009 General Electric made nearly $157 billion dollars, and paid no taxes, they did pay a Securities and Exchanges Commission fine of $50 million for breaking accounting rules in two separate cases, misleading investors into believing GE would meet or beat earnings expectations.
And you can find dozens of other examples, the rich get richer and the poor must endure “austerity measures” in the budget. Funk that.
Go, Fight, Win!!
It is time for the people of this country to take an active role in their own world. Weekends, minimum wage, bargaining power, child labor laws, and safety standards were all brought about by unions, which are just large organized groups of people, fighting for what is right. Now unions and workers across America are under attack again. Its time to stand against Gov. Scott Walker and other labor busters and tell them its time for Wal-Mart, BP, Exxon, Shell, JP MorganChase, and even Goldman Sachs to start paying their part of the debt. It time to stand against the robber baron Federal Reserve (oddly named since they are not federal and have no reserves) and tell them we will coin our own money and no longer borrow from organized mafia-like banking syndicates. Its time to stand against government leaders who don’t listen or help us with these problems but instead just help themselves to wealth, power and a revolving door, lifetime job bouncing between the private sector, government and media. But most of all America it time to stand for something, anything you believe in. Get in groups, talk to unionists, help by giving what you know, let corporate America know that real America is in charge.
Its time to make a stand.