I went to see a great little play last week down on Milwaukee called “Haymarket,” and you know what that’s about. Maybe you don’t. Haymarket was an incident, not a place. At the peak of the effort to cut the work day to eight hours, it got ugly when lots of cops ignored Mayor Carter Harrison’s comment that “nothing was happening” at a rally he attended in Haymarket and went marching on the crowd. Someone, an anarchist most likely, rolled a bomb into the a crowd and when it exploded, it killed some policemen. That sparked a gunfight, with the police basically emptying revolvers into the crowd.
The disaster led to an array of convictions based on nothing but hatred for anarchists and labor activists, a set of hangings and then a century of regrets, for the most part. It took Franklin Roosevelt to set the stage for a long-awaited revival of the union movement. Republicans have generally tried to dismantle what he constructed ever since his death. They have done well for themselves.
This Haymarket story is an integral part of Chicago labor history and carries me straight to the latest Supreme Court ruling on whether folks who are not union members can be forced to pay dues as though they were. No, the court said, you can’t collect dues from people who are not in the union. This was heralded by Republicans as a decision that will put a big hole in union budgets and lead to more decline and so on, particularly for the public employees.
That’s literally what happened.
The consequences may not play out the way the Republicans think. The public employee unions have been very astute at playing these losses to shore up support among remaining members. Look for the same thing here.
But I would also suggest we all step back and take the longer, much longer view.
Labor and capital have been at one another’s throats in Chicago forever. It’s why George Pullman was buried so deep and packed in steel and concrete at Graceland Cemetery. He feared labor goons would dig him up. That’s how brutal that era was.
So I would view this ruling as just another volley in a long-running battle. That’s why attending that play down on Milwaukee was so interesting. It was small stage and intensely personal and, adding to my delight, a former student played and sang all the way through it. And very well! If you can get to it, get to it!
But, I digress.
Not much point in weeping into your soup over this ruling. The Republicans set it up so President Obama could not get his choice on to the court at the end of his administration and set the stage, so to speak, for a very conservative justice to fill the shoes of Antonin Scalia, who was also a very conservative justice.
So the forces of conservative thought take the day, for now.
Of course, we have a thoughtless president so I’m not surprised about any of this. There is just one message here: Go to the polls in November and vote your heart out!
We can’t end this debacle in the streets.
But we can end it at the polls in November and in 2020.