PEOPLE-Local 645

  • Quality of Life Alliance

Today’s History Lesson

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on February 13, 2011

In 1886, Wisconsin made history right here in little old Bay View.  The situation then is being eerily repeated by our own Governor Rusk Walker who is calling for the removal of all worker rights in both the public and private sectors, and has threatened said workers with the National Guard if there is any “unrest.”  What is worrisome is that he has not defined what he considers “unrest.”

Back in 1886, workers were joining forces and demanding pay raises and eight hour work days.  They almost shut down every business in the city until they agreed to start treating their workers with respect and as people.  When the strikers came to Rolling Mills in Bay View, where things got ugly.  Governor Rusk, at the pleading of big businesses (WMC, anyone?), sent out the state militia.  The rest, as they say, is history:

After this incident, the strikers left the Guard alone and they proceeded into the Mills joining the other units called. The strikers then asked the supervisors to wire their headquarters in Chicago to start negotiations on an eight hour work day. They agreed but the answer from Chicago was fast and short “No”.

At this point no one in the crowd knew about the ugly events unfolding in Chicago, where police had killed striking workers, and a bomb killed a police officer in Haymarket Square and wounded several others.

Governor Rusk was under considerable pressure from employers to stop the strike. Employers were saying that they would turn the entire society upside down and use the bombing in Haymarket Square as their proof that a revolution is under way.

Rusk called the Mills and told Captain Treaumer of the Lincoln Guard “if the strikers try to enter the mill, shoot to kill.” Captain Treaumer then ordered his men to pick out a man, concentrate and kill him when the order is given. The strikers spent the night in open fields nearby while the Militia camps stayed at the Mills with sentries posted. During the night the sentries were shooting at anything that moved. A Navy tug brought provisions for the guard.

May 5

Around nine in the morning the strikers gathered again chanting “eight hours,” a reporter who slept with them reported that it was odd that this was a group with no real leadership, but everyone was united in one single purpose.

The crowd approached the mill and faced the militia who were ready to fire. Before Treaumer knew the crowd’s real intentions he ordered halt, but the strikers, who were about two hundred yards away, did not hear him.

He ordered the militia to fire. The crowd was in chaos as people fled the scene. The Milwaukee Journal reported that six were dead and at least eight more were expected to die within twenty four hours.

Meanwhile, some strikers called for revenge on the militia but to no avail. For several days afterwards a few strikers were still marching throughout the city but no one would join them. The dead included a thirteen year old boy who tagged along with the crowd wondering what was going on and a retired worker who lived in Bay View. He was struck down by a stray bullet, as he was getting water and was not part of the strike.

One would hope that Scott Walker isn’t as stupid as Governor Rusk was.  Unfortunately, there is little to show that he is not, since he already threatened to use the National Guard.

It is simply unbelievable that he would threaten people for wanting to make a living wage.  He’s got to go.

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