“The Railroad Strike of 1877 and the birth of modern policing”

https://roarmag.org/essays/1877-railroad-strike-modern-police/ by one of my favorite academics: Robert Ovetz who is also popular among anarchists, and that's how I discovered his writings.

The police has a “long history of being used for class repression”.

“based on the third chapter of Ovetz’ book When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921 (Haymarket 2019)”

“The earliest police forces in the United States have their origins in militias that were used as a weapon to enforce racialized capitalism by suppressing rebellious slaves and native peoples. often informal, privately funded and sporadically trained

“the police were reorganized, managed and equipped with newly designed technology in response to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877....

“a struggle against the police must be a struggle against capitalism.”

“in the summer of 1877” – “Triggered by wage and staffing cuts, self-organized workers without a formal union to represent them spread their struggle to many railroad companies across the entire country.

“In response to brutal attacks by local police and elite-run militias, the workers launched an armed struggle, evoking comparisons to the 1871 Paris Commune and expectations of revolution. the workers ... even controlled the cities of St. Louis and East St. Louis.” But the workers were unable “to expand and sustain the strike, take over and run the railroads themselves and adequately defend themselves against state repression”. This prompted “a complete overhaul [“reorganization”] of local police and the transformation of militias [“both volunteer and state militias”] into the state-run and -funded National Guard we have today.

“police work was Taylorized* by establishing a clear chain of command, assigning patrolmen to rationalized beats and police wagons to be used as weapons used to break up crowds and carry off arrestees.” “Police professionalization is ... one small part of the total process of rationalization under advanced capitalism.” (“Sidney Harring’s classic book Policing a Class Society”)

“Throughout the 1840s and 50s, there was a wave of ethnic and racial riots precipitated by the anti-Catholic, anti-immigration and xenophobic Know Nothing movement’s control over local cities and police departments, which they used to stoke ethnic and racial hatred and terrorize immigrant communities.

“Between 1830–65, close to a 100 riots [(probably of the uprising variety)] took place across major US cities. stoked a wave of fear among the ruling class that the ... police systems were unprepared to control or repress a growing working class”. In “Boston, ... police were organized into a full-time office of professionals in 1837 after three earlier riots and criticism from the city’s elites. under state control in 1885 ... the police were forced to protect property during strikes. cuts to the Chicago and Pittsburgh police departments, for example, during the depressions of 1870s and 1890s left them incapable of defending property and elite neighborhoods during the strikes.”

After the railroad strike, “In St. Louis, the police force was enlarged, a National Guard armory was built and the Lucas Market, where strikers had assembled, was demolished as part of the process of reorganizing public space to facilitate the deployment of police and military force.

“a substantial growth in the size of forces”

“the state “employed the police to accelerate the accumulation of capital by increasing the degree of exploitation of labor.”” (Marx, Capital Volume I) “The industrialization of policing corresponded to the prerogatives of industrial capital to control workers by preventing disruption and restoring control.” “individual capitalists’ adaptations to the class struggle needed to be rationally organized and disciplined, a function beyond any individual capitalist but appropriate for the capitalist state.” (Harring) “socialized policing as a public function of government paid for by public expense rather than by elites alone. the wage and property taxes levied on workers paid for their own domination by the police.

“Between the 1880s and 90s police departments were restructured with a new division of labor that mimicked the military.

“In Pittsburgh, the defeat of the Philadelphia militia during the 1877 strike prompted elites to focus on improving the local police force.” Police “were more flexible and mobile because they did not move in military formation, had experience with crowd control, operated under local political control, were locals familiar with the local terrain, worked full-time and belonged to an institution that emphasized obedience and loyalty to capital despite their recruitment from the working class.

“innovative management techniques ... allowed [the police] to be monitored with the newly invented telegraph and telephone.... city-wide coordination ensured the police could be mobilized rapidly and in large numbers. The police call box was invented in 1880 in Chicago, modeled after the fire alarm telegraph installed in the homes and businesses of the rich. It had three mechanisms to sign a simple short message — riot, robbery, send help — with the pull of a lever, an alarm bell that would ring each box to alert men on the beat to call in for a message, and a two-way conversation between the officer and switchboard. Call boxes were installed by the rich for $25 in 1881, the equivalent of two weeks’ pay for a worker. As Harring observed, this “clearly shows the class basis of the innovation....”

“The signal system and new horse-drawn patrol wagons now allowed a dozen or more officers to be put on the scene in a few minutes compared to one hour under the previous system which required running about town to round up a force before marching on the scene. The patrol wagon became a symbol of intimidation and power, making unruly crowds give way at their approach. Wagons were used as weapons, slamming them into crowds to break them up.... made policing a productive industry in the service of the ruling class.

“social control functions ... intimidated and coerced burgeoning urban populations and dampened collective action. to protect strikebreakers, break up meetings, marches and pickets, keep workplaces open”.

“The Coal and Iron Police were used to replace local police in strikes where the latter might be too sympathetic to strikers. Portrayed in the 1970 film The Molly Maguires” (apparently available at https://invidio.us/watch?v=6P_BdPYmRPg) The state paid the Coal & Iron Police.

“the reorganization of the police alone failed to realize the necessary discipline and control that would prevent further insurgencies. class domination and control ... was paired with the courts, military, welfarism, arbitration and the new division of labor. “‘progressive’ or ‘reformist’ methods of controlling the class struggle, now identified with the welfare state.”” (Harring) “This necessitated new sources of tax revenue that corresponded with the permanent establishment of the federal income tax in the Sixteenth Amendment.

“Racial supremacy plays a central role in policing the working class....

“We should be vigilant about the efforts of non-profit advocacy groups to co-opt and redirect the struggle against the police into reforming the police. Efforts to make the police less discriminatory in their application of their oppressive power will leave the institution as a tool of class domination firmly in place. These groups have failed to achieve even the most non-threatening changes to police policies and practices, such as banning choke and carotid2 holds or simply enforcing the laws against police violence that already exist.

“Previous efforts to “diversify” the police and require that they wear cameras have clearly not blunted their power. And as the aftermath of the 1877 strike shows, reorganizing the police to make them more accountable will also likely result in making them a more effective force of repression.

“Because the police are essential to control and suppress class struggle, efforts to abolish it are inseparable from the struggle to abolish capitalism. By refusing to drive anti-police violence protesters to jail, the Minneapolis and New York City bus drivers demonstrated how demands to defund and abolish the police are integral to a larger class struggle. Without further similar efforts such demands will only succeed in putting a friendlier face on the end of the club wielded against the working class.”

* “Taylorism definition is – a factory management system developed in the late 19th century to increase efficiency by evaluating every step in a manufacturing process and breaking down production into specialized repetitive tasks.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Taylorism Sep 9, 2020

2 carotid – “Either of the two major arteries, one on each side of the neck...” (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/carotid Sep 9, 2020)