The one thing that the Iraq and Afghan wars have done to increase security in the United States is released the job pressure for the youth of America. If it weren’t for the armed services, the two million or so service men and women who have been deployed overseas since September, 2001 would be clogging our unemployment lines and the 14.5 million unemployed today (9.4%) would become at least 15.5 million and we’d have about 10.2% unemployment. Of course, this is a hypothetical, but the point is that one of the only places that young people in many rural and poor communities are guaranteed work is in the military. That is the sum of our jobs’ development in the United States.
At least some of the 56,200 troops in Germany and 33,122 in Japan are developing job related skills, such as learning German or Japanese (troop deployments 2008 state department estimates).
History of Economic Riots in the United States
There were more riots in the 1930’s than any other decade in American history. Why? The Great Depression made people desperate and they had nothing to lose. In the fifties, there were few economic riots of any substance. Why? The people were doing well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_riots Certainly there were race riots, and they are usually economically based at their core, and I will comment on that briefly at the end of the list.
1. Whiskey Rebellion against taxes on Whisky production and sales. This was an important rebellion not for its fight against taxes imposed by America’s first president, but for its show of power by a united merchant class.
2. Cincinnati riots of 1829—riots between Irish Immigrants and blacks for jobs in this southern Ohio town. Could this be coming to Tucson in 2011-12. I am sure the Republicans would benefit from this “told you so moment” even if the state’s racist white ruling class start the riots or bait the citizens of Latin American decent. There were also racially based job riots in Cincinnati in 1836, 1841, and 1853. Yes, these are race related job riots, and we know that would NEVER happen in states like Arizona or Texas against Latinos. We know that the job issue is really about the greedy hoarding and the government helping them take our money and keeping it away from job creating investment and infrastructure projects and not about race. Right?
3. Baltimore Bank Riot of 1835—riots against bank malfeasance. Good thing the banks are on the up and up these days with the generous foreclosure terms and keeping a cap on costs to consumers. Perhaps the U.S. banks are now too big to fail, but are they too big to burn?
4. Flour Riots of 1837 (New York)—shortages of wheat lead prices of flour to rise from $7 a barrel to $12 (a 58% jump) dollars in 1936 in the fall to winter. Information spread that stores such as Hart and Co. were hoarding flour to benefit form rising prices. While there was no evidence of this, the mob destroyed the Hart and Co. store, spilling much of the valuable flour and wheat in the process and went after another store before being dispersed by police. As food prices rise, will we have more food riots by inflation on items like milk (a staple for families) or meat? Will we see the Krogers riots of 2012?
5. Squatters’ Riot near Sacramento, Ca, 1850—the gold rush brought thousands of people to the Sacramento Valley, the gate to gold rush in California. Crowds swelled and squatted on lands claimed by John Sutter after the end of the Mexican-American war. The squatters disputed that claim. They organized after being threatened with arrest and came to an agreement with Sutter who had become disillusioned by the gold rush. He came to a compromise with the squatters by giving them a right of passage and temporary encampments for their journey. While few died, I include this example for the way Mr. Sutton reduced tension by accommodating the desires of the squatters without giving up the right to the land. Perhaps banks and landowners can learn from this example before we have a housing riot.
6. Buffalo Riot of 1862—this is another example of a wage riot in the United States. More than seventy years before minimum wage (still insufficient, but something) was passed in the United States and before unions were given the right to bargain, workers had little recourse but to shut down docks and work places where wages were less than subsistence. The workers demanded increasing pay for themselves and new workers. The police were called in and shot at the dockworkers though no one died in the unrest. Will we soon see the Wal-Mart riots of Little Rock?
7. Southern Bread Riots, 1863—from the start of the Civil War, bread prices, milk and wheat prices tripled in the South. Food was being commandeered by both the Union and Confederate armies and farmers couldn’t resist the profit to be made in converting their crops to ever-profitable cotton and tobacco production. Poor Southerners did not benefit from these crops and only suffered from the rising prices in staples. This lead to violent raids all over the South until the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, stepped in. Will citizens once again realize how the economy is benefitting the wealthy classes to their exclusion and riot?
8. Tomkins Square riots of 1874—a depression started in 1873 and led people to clamour for public works projects and jobs. Thousands of organized workers took to the streets in NYC to demand action, and the police used force to quell the protests. One can easily see with such a violent response why militants like Patrick Dunn would call for more direct (violent) action as path to better working conditions. As a citizen of New York, President Franklin Roosevelt learned a lesson from this history as Congress enacted the very programs workers had asked for in the 1870s during the depression of 1930s. Now we have a Congress of Republicans that want to further roll back the few gains, enacted during Roosevelt’s New Deal, the working classes have made in America. Will there be riots as Obama capitulates to the corporate Republican demands to roll back Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare?
9. Haymarket Affair, 1886—The Hay Market Riot occurred on May 1, 1886. Workers, some anarchist, some socialists, some unions, other workers, were calling for a national 8-hour workday. That is something many of us used to take for granted. As the crowd was about to disperse, someone threw a bomb and one police officer was killed. Eight police died in the melee that followed and an undetermined number of civilians died. In the aftermath, eight anarchists were arrested and charged with conspiracy with little but their own speeches to convict them. Of the eight, four were hung, one committed suicide, two sentences were commuted, one person was found innocent and set free. Some say that the police set of the bomb to have an excuse to go at the crowd. If that was so, why so many die? Will more protesters be arrested and falsely accused under the Patriot Act and extra-judicial detentions in the U.S.?
10. The Thibodaux (Louisiana) Massacre of 1887—The Knights of Labor had successfully unionized rail workers in Louisiana. After that triumph, they figured they could unionize the sugar cane workers. Initially successful at uniting black and white workers from the sugar plantation, they met with the local power structure where years of racist attitudes were used to create a rising fear of the unionized plantation workers. Dozens of workers, mainly black, were killed when strike-breakers were sent in. Will the government kill service workers that currently want to unionize for fear of the power of Latinos?
11. Strike at Homestead Mill, 1892 (In Homestead, PA, east of Pittsburg)—Workers at industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead still mill were asking for better wages and a say in production decisions. Carnegie negotiated by sending 300 Pinkerton detectives, more enforcers and thugs than detectives, to break up the strike. Will the new 20,000 reserve troops placed in the United States by the Pentagon be used to settle worker unrest? (link)
12. Pullman Strike, 1894—as demand for his Pullman cars declined, industrialist George Pullman cut wages and demanded workers work 12-hour days at the lower rate. The America Railway Union led by Eugene V. Debs went on general strike. Rail workers around the country refused to load Pullman cars or run trains that had them attached. This solidarity leads George Pullman to ask President Grover Cleveland to send in the army to break the strike. That ended the strike and sent Debs to prison, where he read Karl Marx and became a socialist. He ran for president 5 times. If only we could unionize the air traffic controllers and shut down air traffic in America. But our hero Reagan dealt with that. Never mind.
13. Everett Massacre—The International Workers of the World were striking for better wages in Everett, Wa. The local sheriff confronted them as they tried to land on the dock and a gun battle ensued. Several union members and deputies were killed, and the strike failed. Moral: Can an armed union really beat the armed police or army? Not without public support.
14. Herrin (Illinois) Massacre, 1922—in a turnaround for labor, striking miners trapped, tracked and killed several strikebreakers, but they were not convicted by local juries though indictments were presented. Moral: public support can get you off if you kill strikebreakers. With continued unemployment, there will be more unrest and violence in the workplace?
15. Eviction Riots, The Bronx, New York, 1932—City Marshalls and police entered and apartment complex to evict 17 people, but when they exited the building, they were met with sticks, stones, fists and whatever the 4000 that had gathered to prevent the eviction could get there hands on. It took every police officer in the city to quell the protest. The landlords agreed to reduce the rent temporarily and the protest subsided. Where are all the strikes against foreclosures and evictions? If evictions continue, there will be public unrest.
16. Bonus Army—after WWI, some 40,000 veterans, their families and allies marched in Washington, D.C. in 1932 to ask for the promised bonuses from their service in the war. They camped across the Anacostia River on the swampy Anacostia Flats. The camp was controlled and only open to Veteran’s of good standing. However, after skirmishes between military police and the veteran’s, President Hoover ordered the evacuation of the bonus army. During the attack to close the camp, 55 veterans were injured and 135 were arrested. The United States will eventually end its occupation in Afghanistan and more Iraq War veterans will be coming home this summer. How will we handle this newly unemployed and un-deployed army?
17. Memorial Day massacre of 1937—Striking steel workers in Chicago were heading toward their plant to picket (“Little Steel”) when they encountered police blocking the road. A tree trunk was thrown at the police line that then opened fire. Ten strikers were killed and thirty were injured. Once again the police take the side of capital over the lives of people. How much of that will happen in the coming years with near 10% official unemployment and a rate that is much higher if you those no longer receiving unemployment and part time workers who want full time work? The latest report I found to be valid was 18.7% effective unemployment from July, 2009 which was nearly double the official rate.
In the 60s and 70s, many of the riots, while deeply seated in economic injustice, were race based. I choose to focus on the unrest that reminds us how much has been gained and how much we may lose and the country turns ignorant of pre-Great Depression suffering and rampant unregulated capitalism and its abuse of workers.
As unemployment continues unabated and Obama continues to side with corporations on the questions of regulation, investment, taxes, social welfare and the war, tension is rising just beneath the surface.
The Tea Party movement is right to point out that the government is full of corrupt officials who don’t give a damn about us. They are right to be angry. However, they have hitched their wagon to the same corrupt officials who helped create this disaster, the Republican Party and the Koch corporation backed politicians.
Unless Obama, the White House and Congress face the severe jobs crisis and rising economic inequality in the United States, there will be more economically based violence, riots and upheaval. Franklin Roosevelt, a product of the New York aristocracy, understood this. The New Deal saved the United States from a major class based conflict. Will Obama wizen up soon enough to save the elites, and thus himself?
Certainly, the New Deal failed to address many of the structural problems with our capitalist system, but that is for another post. It’s hard to argue that the New Deal didn’t help millions in the 30s.
I would love it if we took care of each other and the wealth of this nation was shared so all could benefit and few would suffer. But what outcomes are we left with at this date and time but upheaval?