Boston Police Strike of 1919

In 1919, America was in the process of recovering from what was then known as the Great World War. The cost of living and inflation had increased faster than wage advancement. From 1913 to 1919, the cost of living had increased by 75 per cent, but police wages had levitated just 18 per cent. Because of the problem, soldiers recurring from the world war were inundating the labor market, placing pressure on workers’ earning downward. During 1919, one-sixth of the country’s workforces went on strike. The year commenced with New York’s harbor workers going on strike in January and was followed by dressmakers. In February, news headlines stated an “introduction to revolution” when a general strike in Seattle closed all enterprises from February 6 to February11. By the beginning of 1919, a sequence of attacks had hit America as unions tried to acquire higher wages to regulate the wartime inflation. Collective negation had long been observed with suspicion by numerous Americans whose doubts were intensified by the operative revolution in Russia and efforts to introduce communism in the Western world. After World War I, the political climate was characterized by increased fear instilled by the business and propaganda regarding a communist takeover of America. One of the significant targets of the propaganda was the Labor Movement that organized workers to negotiate collectively for fair hours and wages. The Red Scare was raised as police forces across states began to establish unions. Propaganda turned it appear as if communists were arranging a takeover from the inside.

Additionally, bombs were dispatched to the Seattle Mayor who broke the strikes. In April, 40 extra mail missiles were found on the way to public leaders for the May Day, the worldwide communist holiday. On the backdrop of the apparently spreading collectivism, numerous American inhabitants supposed that they were on the verge of the workers’ rebellion (Russell, 2007). In Massachusetts, textile employees in Lawrence started the protest of a six-days-one-week, nine-hours-one-day work program Boston’s telephone workers interrupted many of the New England’s phone facilities during the April work strike and in July, while Boston’s train workers performed their walkout. Boston’s political and business leaders would see this national tendency of strikes incapacitate their communities and businesses and they became progressively alarmed (Warner, 2010).

Furthermore, nothing powered the anti-union Red Scare publicity more than the Boston Police Strikes of 1919. Police in Boston had a great amount of details why they required joining unions. Like any other employee in any other sectors, they pointed out that their earnings were quite small while their working hours were extended. The police force’s earnings were even considerably lower than earnings of most amateurish factory employees. For this meager pay, they were requested to operate seventy-two up and to ninety-eight hours in one week (Murray, 2009). Boston’s police workforce disheartened by the lack of courtesy paid to their many complaints organized the “Boston Social Club, allied with an AFL” in August, 1919. Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis considered that the police officer could not belong to the union and fulfill his proper responsibility at the similar time. As an outcome of his ill-advised beliefs, Curtis quickly suspended nineteen police officers that were operating as union managers.

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In connection to the suspension of nineteen union police officers as well as Police Commissioner’s refusal to permit them to join the AFL, Boston’s police went on strike. A few individuals took advantage of this situation, breaking windows and looting stores (Warner, 2010). As an outcome, the State Guard was called upon to stop criminals. Public opinion started to turn against the police and the national AFL President Samuel Gompers recommended that officers reappeared to work and to the battening table. Commissioner Curtis determined not to grant striking officers this opportunity and to substitute the police force completely. Police Commissioner had full President Woodrow Wilson’s support and then Governor Calvin Coolidge became a national hero by suppressing the strike (Murray, 2009).

However, public reaction to the attack was astounding. Few commanders sided with police officers and the attack became destructive for the whole Labor Movement because of the escalating Communist Revolution fear in America. Immediately after the air strike, the LA Times highlighted that “no man’s wife, no man’s house, no man’s children shall be safe if the police power is unionized and made a subject to the Red Unionist bosses orders.” The general view of public sector strikes was less comprehensible than strikes in the private segment. None of the striking police officers ever returned to the police force. An entirely new police force was employed with an improved salary and better functioning conditions (Murray, 2009).

There is no suspicion that Boston’s police had legal grievances, which they articulated as early as 1917. Preliminary pay for current officers had not increased in 60 years since 1857 when contemporary recruits were given only two dollars each day. Their wages were lower than salary of most unskilled factory employees. Officers functioned seven days every week, with one day off in the following week when they could not leave the town without a special consent. Depending on the duty assignment, officers worked long hours every week while else they were even not allowed to leave camps. They were required to sleep in posting houses in case they were required to report about their working duties. Officers were not compensated for court arrivals. They complained about disgraceful conditions in police stations that comprised the lack of baths, sanitation, toilets, and beds (Murray, 2009).

Furthermore, since 1885, the Boston police force had been under control of the commissioner employed by the Governor of the state. Though the Boston’s Mayor regulated their budget, their work and the way they utilized the budget were regulated by this commissioner employed by the state Governor. This put Mayor Andrew Peters in a complicated position. The police power protected the mayor’s city, but not under his command. When the police power succeeded in any battle, the state could take the recognition. However, when there were predicaments, Peters who was the closest person to them would willingly be made a scapegoat (Warner, 2010).

In addition, there was also an ethnic-based overlay. Protestant Yankees pursued to regulate the Irish-Catholic position and the Boston Police Department. This condition made the conflict to be broader than simple consideration of work and wages conditions as it swiftly developed along the lines of ethnicity. In June, 1919, complaints made by police generals were not addressed, so they turned to the United States Federation of Labor to deliberate the unionization. Police officers had their link known as the Boston Social Club that was founded by the police power in 1906. Functioning under its support, Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis was opinionated in his censure of the move to unionize. After all, the labor union programme had long been perceived with suspicion by numerous Americans. Misgiving workers were intensified by the so-called employees’ revolution in Russia and by efforts to spread communism all throughout the Western world (Russell, 2007).

Consequently, in August the police were given a union charter that Commissioner Curtis had opposed based on the justification that policemen were not employees, but state officers. Mayor Peters was inaccessible as he was on a lengthy vacation in Maine; however, Attorney General Albert Pillsbury and Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge put forward laws to make unionization unlawful for public employees. Pillsbury noted that “the arranged workman has occupied us by the gullet and had us at his compassion.” Therefore, the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’ were swiftly drawn (Warner, 2010).

From this point, state officials concentrated on legality of public workers’ unionization instead of the validity of officers’ complaints. On August 20, Commissioner Curtis deferred eight of the foremost police union organizers, which were soon followed by another eleven suspensions. Officers were methodical in turning in their batons and Curtis started establishing volunteer police alternatives (Foner, 2010).

At the time Mayor Peters returned from the vacation, he made appeasing statements and organized the commission controlled by a prominent banker James Storrow. James’ group suggested that Commissioner Curtis and the police agreed to a police union with no AFL ties and no rights for any strike. Curtis could distinguish the police union and the union could agree to continue being unaffiliated and independent. Storrow’s cluster also suggested that no action could be taken against the nineteen officers that Curtis had suspended. Four of Boston’s newspapers supported the conciliation with only the Boston Transcript allotment to a reliable anti-union position. The Boston Chamber of Commerce supported the compromise as well (Murray, 2009).

In addition, Commissioner Curtis reserved his position that it could be unpredictable to negotiate with the union or have the police obliged to perform upon impulses of any non-public institution. The necessity for public security overshadowed the officers’ declared right to collective bargaining. As Curtis had put it earlier, it may seem that the police of this or any other town could not fulfil its responsibility (Congress & Coolidge, 2009). The public would distrust the police if its associates were questioned about the course of an institution existing outside the section. If disturbances and troubles arose where the security of this institution and desires of other classes and elements were in conflict, the conflict would immediately emerge. The case matches the saying that when a man tries to serve two masters at the same time, he must miscarry either in his responsibility as the policeman or in his commitment to the institution that regulates him (Foner, 2010).

In conclusion, disreputable Boston Police Strike of 1919 started causing a pandemonium all over the nation and endorsing the growing power of unions in the American life. Utilizing the conflict condition to their benefit, criminals took the chance to loot the city. As the community changed its views in the 20th century, the police force was expected to behave more professionally because some of their earlier practices were no longer tolerated. Explanations such as that presently given by Dallas’s chief of the police in defense of their unorthodox strategies on illegality were no longer tolerable for the public. The police force was brought within a civil service outline and even received initial training. Soon, the Labor Federation of America began to create local police unions. At that time, the governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge, called out the paramilitaries to help the Harvard faculty and students who were acting as a volunteer force. Whilst the Boston Police Strike was disastrous for the union in the short term, the police force was eventually permitted to form unions. All in all, it is unlawful for the police force to strike and even to be encompassed in informal work actions like the blue flu whereby large amounts of police officers fall sick simultaneously.

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