Wednesday, August 17, 2016

From the Archives, 1906: Joe Hill sees union utopia

[Editors' Note: The current claim by the Boston Police Patrolman's Association, that bastion of progressive unionism, that the City cannot force the 5-0 to wear body cameras without negotiating the price it will pay for such an imposition caused us to consult our vast archives to see if anyone had ever foreseen that the labor movement would come so far.  And, from August 1906, we reported that someone had]

He is sure that Labor will vanquish its foes
Expects public servants to serve as vanguard of revolutionary movement

By Bart Vanzetti
Workingman's Correspondent

WORCESTER, Mass. – The weather may have been steaming, but the speechifying was even hotter yesterday inside Emma Goldman's ice cream shop on Winter Street, when the President of the International Workers of the World, the legendary Joe Hill, came to town to inspire the masses to organize and beat the bosses.

Joe Hill painted an idyllic future thanks to police unions
In a stirring address interrupted only by a break for Ms. Goldman's famous Strawberry-Red Frappes, Mr. Hill said he was as sure as a man could be that labor would eventually triumph thanks to the latent strength of working men and the essential righteousness of its cause.

“It may not happen in my lifetime, but I am sure that the vanguard of the labor movement will successfully take over the bourgeois state, starting with its most essential functions, namely, police, and fire,” he said.

“I know it seems inconceivable now, my friends, but trust me there will come a day when there is no force more powerful than the policeman's union, and I tell you that will be a great day for social justice and equality.

“Imagine years from now when reactionary political bosses seek to trammel the people's tribunes by compelling them to carry burdensome cameras with them at all times to track their every move.

“Yet thanks to the mighty power of the labor movement, the rank and file will say no, and that no will stick.  They will say you cannot force me to bear witness against myself, and I say to that hosanna.

Ms. Goldman's Red Frappes were well received
“And that is not all my friends.  I see a day when the combined power of our brethren in the police and fire departments will drain every penny from municipal coffers to pay high wages and benefits.  Inconceivable as it may seem now, those benefits will include the right of the rank and file to retire in their forties and receive their full final salaries for decades to come, with almost all of the cost to be paid by cities and towns, by which I mean the owners of property.

“And although the brave companies of police and fire men will take the lion's share of the city's gold, the public school teachers shall also get lifetime protection against firing as well as pensions equal to many times the salary of an ordinary teacher.

“And these public employees, thus entitled to their fair share of the wealth of nations, will open their ranks to the woman, and the colored man, and even the followers of the Prophet Mahomet.”

At this point, a flying squad of Worcester's finest broke up the gathering with their truncheons and marched Mr. Hill off to the local jail.

Reaction to Mr. Hill's visionary address was mixed.  Most of the crowd seemed to cheer the bold prediction of victory for labor, but representatives of the propertied classes were more skeptical.  “I run the finest Slovak brothel in Worcester, and I'll be damned if I pay a dime more in taxes to support these idlers.  By the way, it's only a dollar a throw until six,” said one local business owner, Fred C. Drumpf.

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