Between 1880 and 1890 there were over 20,000 strikes involving approximately 6.6 million workers. In 1899 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, union miners, led by the Western Federation of Miners attempted to unionize non-union mines, and have them pay the higher union wage scale. The miners were frustrated with mine operators that paid lower wages, hired Pinkerton or Thiel operatives to infiltrate the union; and routinely fired any miner who held a union card. The worker versus owner confrontation culminated in a dynamite attack that destroyed a non-union mining facility, followed by military occupation of the district.
Government has often been used by the wealthy to keep wages down by suppressing workers rights, sometimes violently, as in the case of the Railroad Strike of 1877, which was precipitated by pay cuts. President Rutherford B. Hayes called out federal troops and the violence eventually led to the deaths of over 100 people. Local governments also stepped in to support their wealthy benefactors such as in the 1897 Lattimer massacre near Hazleton, Pennsylvania in which 19 unarmed striking coal miners and mine workers were killed and 36 wounded by a posse organized by the Luzerne County sheriff for refusing to disperse. Most of the strikers were shot in the back.
Labor unrest wasn’t just happening in the United States, it was a worldwide phenomenon and in France and later Russia, then China, and Cuba, it ended in revolution which at least temporarily reset the level of wealth and income inequality. The United States has managed to escape such revolutions and retain a capitalist economy because of the restraints that Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt place on corporations. Unfortunately beginning in the 1970’s with Ronald Reagan and continuing under Bill Clinton many of those restraints were loosened. Every president since has had some part in removing restraints. States have done their part as well such as the mis-named Right to Work laws passed in many states including Texas which only serve to break unions.
Once again income and wealth inequality in the United States is rocketing toward the stratosphere and many Americans are being left out, some are getting angry. It’s in the interests of the wealthiest among us to recognize that the to 1% of Americans owning the same wealth as the total had by the bottom 40% is unhealthy for their continued physical well being, think guillotines, and the existence of their assets, think Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. History tells us that they won’t act on their own to save themselves.
No one looks forward to suffering through a French style revolution, though you wouldn’t know it from the tax bill passed recently that serves to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. Fortunately Bernie Sanders and many Democratic Party leaders have concluded that it’s past time to take action to reduce income inequality before it’s too late. Your votes in November can help lead the way back from the brink.