- Labor spies
Labor spies are persons recruited or employed for the purpose of gathering intelligence, committing sabotage, sowing dissent, or engaging in other similar activities, typically within the context of an employer/labor organization relationship.
Some of the statistics cited by researchers suggest that, historically, unions have been the frequent targets of orchestrated campaignsFrom Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 75-96. employing labor spies, indicating that such actions against labor organizations are often the result of strategic considerations.
Labor spying is most typically used by companies or their agents, and such activity often complements
union busting. In some cases — apparently much less common, according to resources — labor spies have acted in support of union goals, against company interests, or against the company's hired agents. Unions may also utilize labor spies to spy upon other unions, or upon their own members.
Within the field of labor relations, union busters make the largest salaries. In 1993, there were seven thousand attorneys and consultants in the United States who made their living busting unions. The war "against" unions is a $1 billion-plus industry.Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 5. Emphasis added. Labor spying is one of the most formidable tools of the union busters.
Who are labor spies?
In "The Detective Business", Robin Dunbar observed,
A spy's business is to deceive his victim, to gain his confidence, to learn his secrets and plans and then to betray him. A sleuth's life is a lie. He is both Judas and
Ananias. (1909)J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, page 85, citing "The Detective Business", Robin Ernest Dunbar, Charles H. Kerr, 1909, possibly reprinted, Magico Magazine, in 1988.
Labor spies are "most" typically agents employed by corporations, or hired through the services of
union bustingagencies, for the purpose of monitoring, disempowering, subverting, or destroying unions, or undermining actions taken by those unions.
Labor spies may be referred to as spies, operatives, agents,
agents provocateurs, saboteurs, infiltrators, informants, spotters, plants, special police, or detectives. During the mid- to late-1800s, a period during which there was intense distaste for the detective profession, the Pinkerton and Thiel detective agencies referred to their field agents as "operatives" or "testers". The Pinkerton logo inspired the expression "private eye".J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, pages 80,84.
Operatives employed for labor spying may be professional, recruited from the public, or recruited from members of a particular workforce for a specific operation such as
strike breaking. They may be directly employed by the company, or they may report to the company through an agency.
Some agencies that provide such operatives to corporations offer full protective and union busting services, such as
security guards, training, providing weaponry (including, historically, machine guns),The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 29. intelligence gathering, research, and strike-breaker recruitment services. Other agencies are more specialized.
Both the spy agencies and the companies that employ labor spies prefer to keep their activities secret.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page xiv. The companies seek to avoid embarrassment and bad public relations. The spy agencies also concern themselves with "possible danger attendant upon discovery, and second, because the operative is thereafter a marked man ... his usefulness to the Agency is ended."The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 8. Therefore, actual labor spy reports, and even records of their existence, are a rare commodity.“X,” “XX,” and “X-3”, Spy Reports from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Archives, Colorado Heritage/Winter 2004, Jonathan Rees, page 30.
Corporations are not subject to freedom of information requirements or sunshine laws, and therefore corporate practices such as spying are rarely subject to public scrutiny. However, historic examples of labor spying that have come to light provide a fairly substantive overview.
Labor spy techniques
::Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, "Confessions of a Union Buster"Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 3. Emphasis added.
Labor spies may employ techniques of surreptitious monitoring, "missionary" work, sabotage, provoking chaos or violence,
frameups, intimidation, or insinuating themselves into positions of authority from which they may alter the basic goals of an organization. A National Labor Relations Board chairman testified about the results of these techniques:
The mystery and deadly certainty with which this scheme [labor spying] operated was so baffling to the men that they each suspected the others, were afraid to meet or to talk and the union was completely broken.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 87. The original word in brackets was "espionage."
A labor spy observed,
Those labor unions were so hot, crying about spies, that everything was at fever pitch and they look at each other with blood in their eyes.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 87.
As one example of the impact of spying, a union local at the Underwood Elliot Fisher Company plant was so damaged by undercover operatives that membership dropped from more than twenty-five hundred, to fewer than seventy-five.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 88.
In 1906, officers of the Corporations Auxiliary Company announced that they had labor spies at the annual convention of the
American Federation of Labor. For fifteen dollars, prospective clients could have a "full and complete report of the entire proceedings."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 81. By 1919, spying on workers had become so common that steel company executives had accumulated six hundred spy reports. Some of them were accurate transcriptions of the secret meetings of union locals.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 82.
In order to elicit business, some agencies would send secret operatives into a prospective client's factory without permission. A report would be prepared and submitted to the startled manager, revealing conspiracies of sabotage and union activities.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 82.
Workers who were bribed to provide information to operatives often believed that the destination was an insurance agency, or interested stockholders. They never imagined that their reports on co-workers were destined for the corporation. Such workers were said to be "hooked," and in spy agency parlance those who reeled them in were called "hookers."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 87.
::Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, "Confessions of a Union Buster"Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 3.
Missionary work means deploying undercover operatives to create dissension on the picket lines and in union halls, for example, by utilizing whispering campaigns or unfounded rumors. Missionaries frequently directed their whispering campaigns toward strikers' families and communities. For example, female operatives would visit the wives of strikers in their homes, incorporating their cover story into their spiel. They would tell the wife sad stories about how their own spouse lost a job years ago because of a strike, and hasn't found work since, and "that's why I must sell these products door to door."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 88-89. The quoted text is paraphrased. Another target was merchants who catered to strikers, who could be turned against the union by asserted claims of financial risks.
Missionary campaigns have been known to destroy not only strikes, but unions themselves.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 88-89.
While sabotage (including various forms of workplace sabotage) may have a special meaning for particular labor organizations, within the context of protracted labor struggles there is a common pattern. The corporation has the assets and, aside from fairly common attacks against union halls, the greatest number of "targets" for sabotage belong to the company. This means that companies are quick to hire protective services during strikes. However, there is also a history of operatives arranging for destruction of assets, with the goal of blaming such actions on the other side."Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," J. Bernard Hogg, Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, pages 175-176.
The same agencies that provide labor spies often provide guards who act in concert with the intelligence services.
Provocation of strikers may be either covert or overt. During a senate investigation of activities of the Baldwin-Felts Agency in
West Virginia, testimony revealed that:
[One] night in early February 1913 the local sheriff, a coal operator, and fourteen guards machine-gunned a strikers' tent colony at Holly Grove from an armored train known as the "
Bull Moose Special." Mine guard Lee Calvin told congressional investigators that after the train passed through the village, one mine owner remarked: "We gave them hell and had a lot of fun. Let's back up and give them another round."The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 26-27.
Senator James E. Martine observed, "these trains would run up to a village, usually a single street along the railroad track, the mine guards would fire a couple of rifle shots from the cars to incite the strikers to return fire, and then the machine guns would be brought into action."The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 27.
Provocations during labor disputes have been very common, particularly those carried out by undercover agents. For example,
...historians Philip Taft and Philip Ross have pointed out in their comments on violence in labor history that "IWW activity was virtually free of violence... It is of some interest to note that a speaker who advocated violence at a meeting at the IWW hall in Everett [Washington, where the
Everett massacreoccurred] was later exposed as a private detective."A Pictorial History of American Labor, William Cahn, 1972, page 204.
And in the aftermath of the
Colorado Labor Wars,
William B. Easterly, president of WFM District Union No. 1 [in the Cripple Creek District] , testified that the only person who discussed violence at Altman WFM meetings during the strike turned out to be a detective.All That Glitters—Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek, Elizabeth Jameson, 1998, page 229.
On January 20, 1912, just eight days into a strike of textile workers in
Lawrence, Massachusetts, police acting upon a tip discovered dynamite near a union organizer's address for receiving mail. The police blamed the strikers and used the incident to ban picketing near the textile mills. National media echoed the anti-union message of the mill owners. But later the police revealed that the dynamite had been wrapped in a magazine addressed to the son of the former mayor. The man had received an unexplained payment from the largest of the mill owners. Exposed, the plot swung public sympathy to the strikers.Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, pages 163.
Frameups can be based upon mere pranks, but may still have a significant impact on a union organizing effort. In 1980, union buster Martin Jay Levitt conducted a counter-organizing drive at a nursing home in Sebring,
Ohio. He sought to portray the union as dangerous, and the nursing home's residents as potential victims of violence. Before the campaign was concluded, residents — who for years had depended upon intimate contact with nurse's aids and other care-givers — were led to fear being alone with any of these mostly pro-union employees. Residents became so frightened that they began locking their doors at night, and their fears propelled an anti-union backlash.Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 195 and 218.
The climate of fear was entirely manufactured for the sole purpose of destroying the union organizing drive. In his book "Confessions of a Union Buster" Levitt wrote, "I dispatched a contingent of commandos to scratch up the cars of high-profile pro-company workers and to make threatening phone calls to others." The union buster took advantage of his confederates' actions by having the nursing home's executive director write a letter to employees "taking the union to task for such barbarous scare tactics." This frameup was one part of an ugly psychological campaign which lasted a year and a half. Bright lights installed in the parking lot were publicized as necessary "due to the increasing hostility of the union." Employees were barraged with propaganda about taking alternate routes to work. The nursing home bought an old school bus, and the company's new bus service was announced as a protective measure for loyal employees during any possible strike. Letters were sent to employees about each new security measure. Such repetitive actions reinforced the climate of fear, all of which had initially been conjured as part of a frameup — through criminal mischief perpetrated by the union buster.Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 195 and 218.
Perhaps the most audacious example of a frameup, advanced but not initiated by Pinkerton Agent
James McParland, involved an effort to slander the Western Federation of MinersWFM local in Telluride, Colorado, targeting the union's dynamic young leader, Vincent St. John.
In 1901 the WFM Local in Telluride had won a strike, and some local businessmen plotted a campaign of vilification against the union. With no evidence whatsoever, this group — which included a banker, a judge, a newspaper publisher and the local sheriff — publicized lurid newspaper reports, and created a condemnatory shop window display with a skull of an unknown individual dug up for the purpose, accusing the union of murdering three men who had disappeared from the district. Agent McParland used the disappearances as persuasion to sell Pinkerton services to
Bulkeley Wells, the president and manager of the Smuggler-Union Mining Company in Telluride. McParland also saw the alleged murders as a way to bolster Harry Orchard's testimony in a conspiracy trial for the assassination of Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg. McParland was attempting to implicate top leaders of the WFM in the assassination.
Together with Wells and others, McParland helped to concoct a plan to charge WFM miner Steve Adams with involvement after-the-fact in the murder of mine guard
William J. Barney, who had disappeared one week after accepting the job of guarding the Smuggler-Union mine.
There was one difficulty with the accusations: at least two of the men claimed as the murder victims of the union, and possibly all three, were still alive.
One of the three happened to return to the area and, informed that he'd been murdered, signed an affidavit attesting to his continuing status among the living. That fellow was quietly dropped from the list of union "victims."
But another of the three, William J. Barney, an out-of-towner, also hadn't been murdered. Unaware of the intrigue surrounding his absence, he appeared in a San Miguel County court — the very location of his alleged "murder" — to obtain a divorce decree one year after he had "disappeared." Although the county sheriff and judge who dealt with his divorce case knew Barney had been declared a murder victim, they were among the circle of conspirators seeking to vilify the union, and they kept quiet about Barney's court appearance so that the alleged "reign of terror" attributed to the union would not be seen as a sham.The Corpse On Boomerang Road, Telluride's War On Labor 1899-1908, MaryJoy Martin, 2004, pages 11-147, and 231-232. The false "reign of terror" was devised as justification for the eventual banishment, at bayonet point, of all union members from the district.
It is impossible to know how many incidents in the history of labor struggles may be the result of frameups.
Labor spy agencies may be called upon to provide personnel with the goal of intimidating strikers. While there are indications that this may occur (see Asset Protection Team services, below), asking too bluntly for such service may in one case have resulted in a refusal. The authors of "The Pinkerton Story" (Van Rees Press, 1951) chronicle that agency in a very favorable light. One passage demonstrates that even the most "upright and Godly" of employers may have impure motives when it comes to strikers:
One of the present authors [of "The Pinkerton Story"] , in reading the bound testimony before the [U.S. Senate's La Follette] committee, was surprised to come upon a Pinkerton report of an interview with an employer with whom the author had close business relations and knew well at the time (1936). The employer was a sincerely upright and Godly man... a pillar of the church, and many of his employees attended his Bible class. The report was of an interview with him about their industrial service by a Pinkerton official at the time when the employer expected labor trouble. He told the Pinkerton man he did not want the service. What he wanted, he said, was for them to send in some thugs who could beat up the strikers.The Pinkerton Story, James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, 1951, page 238.
The authors of "The Pinkerton Story" conclude that the Pinkerton official declined to offer such a service, as it "was not available."
Operatives in high places
In the 1930s nearly one-third of the twelve-hundred labor spies working for the Pinkerton Agency held high level positions in the targeted unions, including one national vice-presidency, fourteen local presidencies, eight local vice-presidencies, and numerous secretary positions. Sam Brady, a veteran Pinkerton operative, held a high enough position in the International Association of Machinists that he was able to damage the union by precipitating a premature strike. Pinkerton operatives drove out all but five officers in a
United Auto Workerslocal in Lansing, Michigan. The remaining five were Pinkertons.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 88.
A historical overview
As early as 1855, the
Pinkerton National Detective Agencyprovided "spotters" to expose dishonest and lazy railroad conductors. However, the program unraveled when, after a train accident in November, 1872, papers found on the body of a Pinkerton operative revealed that the agency had been using deceitful practices.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 76.
In 1869, garment workers formed the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor as a secret labor organization, largely in response to spying by an employer. The resulting
blacklisthad been used to destroy their union.A History of American Labor, Joseph G. Rayback, 1966, page 143.
At an 1888 convention of the
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineersthat was held in Richmond, Virginia, delegates organized a special committee to search out hiding places that might be used by labor spies. They discovered a newspaper reporter, and determined to hold meetings behind closed doors. Note-taking was forbidden. Their concerns were justified, but the effort failed; two Pinkerton operatives had infiltrated the convention as delegates from Reading, Pennsylvania. They composed elaborate reports on all the issues and discussionsThe Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, page 98. and recorded all the minutes of the meetings at the convention.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 77.
Beginning in the latter decades of the 1800s, agencies that supplied security and intelligence services to business clients were essentially private police forces, and were accountable only to their clients. The private police agencies declined with the development of professional public police departments, but they continued to be employed by mine owners in "frontier environments" well into the twentieth century.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 4.
The earliest, largest, and best known private police force was Pinkerton's Protective Police Patrol. The organization's early reputation was marred by a string of killings; on April 9 of 1885, Pinkertons shot and killed an elderly man at the McCormick Harvester Company Works in
Chicago. On October 19, 1886, they shot and killed a man in Chicago's packinghouse district. In January 1887, Pinkerton agents fired upon and killed a fourteen year old bystander during a Jersey City coal wharves strike.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 9-13. The whole city was outraged, and the mayor described "Pinkertonism" as medieval barbarism. An article in " The Nation" magazine gave the killing national exposure.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, page 100. There was a growing outcry about Pinkertonism, although no concrete steps were taken to control such agencies.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 9-13.
It was not until after the
Homestead Strikeof 1892, when a shooting war erupted between strikers and three hundred Pinkerton men arriving on three river barges, that both houses of Congress established subcommittees to investigate the battle on the Monongahela River. But the overriding concern for private property influenced Congressional thinking. Federal legislators were reluctant "to step between employers and their mercenaries." The federal Anti-Pinkerton Act (still in force) was enacted in 1893 to prohibit an "individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization" from being employed by "the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia." [5 U.S. Code 3108; Public Law 89-554, 80 Stat. 416 (1966); ch. 208 (5th par. under "Public Buildings"), 27 Stat. 591 (1893). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in "U.S. ex rel. Weinberger" v. "Equifax", 557 F.2d 456 (5th Cir. 1977), "cert. denied", 434 U.S. 1035 (1978), held that "The purpose of the Act and the legislative history reveal that an organization was 'similar' to the Pinkerton Detective Agency only if it offered for hire mercenary, quasi-military forces as strikebreakers and armed guards. It had the secondary effect of deterring any other organization from providing such services lest it be branded a 'similar organization.'" 557 F.2d at 462; "see also" cite web
title ="GAO Decision B-298370; B-298490, Brian X. Scott" (Aug. 18, 2006).
States also took their cues from the federal investigation. By the end of the nineteenth century, twenty-six states had passed "anti-Pinkerton" type laws. Yet even with state laws intended to prevent the importation of armed men, private policing agencies flourished.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 14-21.
By the dawn of the muckraking era, employers increasingly turned to espionage services. E.H. Murphy once told a midwestern industrialist,
We have the reputation of being several jumps ahead of the old way of settling capital and labor difficulties... Our service aims to keep our clients informed through the medium of intelligence reports.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 79.
Samuel Gompersobserved that progressive liberal public opinion was prompting employers to become more clandestine in their anti-union activities. Delegates to the Massachusettsstate AFL convention concluded that private detective agencies not only had "assumed formidable proportions," they threatened to "Russianize" American society.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 79. Captain B. Kelcher of the C.B.K. Detective Bureau in New York informed prospective clients that his firm did "not handle strike work," but rather "prevent [ed] strikes." Bill Haywood, a leader of the WFM and the IWW during the period 1899-1918, offered an opinion indicative of the growing frustration of union leaders:
A detective is the lowest, meanest and most contemptible thing that either creeps or crawls, a thing to loathe and despise. ... That you may know how small a detective is, you can take a hair and punch the pith out of it and in the hollow hair you can put the hearts and souls of 40,000 detectives and they will still rattle. You can pour them out on the surface of your thumbnail and the skin of a gnat will make an umbrella for them.
When a detective dies, he goes so low that he has to climb a ladder to get into Hell— and he is not a welcome guest there. When his Satanic Majesty sees him coming, he says to his imps, "Go get a big bucket of pitch and a lot of sulphur, give them to that fellow and put him outside. Let him start a Hell of his own. We don't want him in here, starting trouble."Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, pages 146-147.
In 1918, the
American Protective League(APL) was focused on disrupting the activities of the Industrial Workers of the World, primarily because of that union's opposition to the First World War. The APL burgled and vandalized IWW offices, and harassed IWW members.Information from American Protective LeagueRetrieved March 28, 2007.
By the 1930s, industrial espionage had become not just an accepted part of labor relations, it was the most important form of labor discipline services that was provided by the anti-union agencies.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page xvi. More than two hundred agencies offered undercover operatives to their clients.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 75, from U.S. Senate hearings.
During the 1930s, thirty-two mining companies, twenty-eight automotive firms, and a similar number of food companies relied upon labor spies. A member of the
National Labor Relations Boardestimated that American industrialists spent eighty million dollars spying on their workers. General Motorsalone spent nearly a million dollars for undercover operatives fighting the CIO during a two year period. In addition to the Pinkertons, General Motors hired thirteen other spy agencies to monitor workers in its factories, and then used the Pinkertons to spy on operatives from these other agencies.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 82-86.
Between 1933 and 1935, the Pinkerton Agency employed twelve hundred undercover operatives and operated out of twenty-seven offices. The agency assigned agents to three hundred companies during the 1930s. In 1936
Robert Pinkertonannounced a change of focus for the Pinkerton Agency. The days of strike-breaking agencies marshalling large numbers of strike-breakers to defeat strikes were over. The Pinkerton Agency was determined to "place emphasis on its undercover work which, being secret, created less antagonism."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 75, quoting "Strikebreaking Services", page 25.
::Robert Michael Smith, "From Blackjacks to Briefcases", 2003.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 96.
National Labor Relations Actof 1935 outlawed spying on and intimidating union activists, provoking violence, and company unions.Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, page 33. However, spying on workers and harassing them continued, according to testimony before congress in 1957. Other abuses by labor consulting firms included manipulating union elections through bribery and coercion; threatening to revoke workers' benefits if they organized; installing union officers sympathetic to management; and, offering rewards to employees who worked against unions.Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, pages 37-38.
In 1944, historian
J. Bernard Hogg, surveying the history of labor spying, observed that Pinkerton agents were secured "by advertising, by visiting United States recruiting offices for rejectees, and by frequenting water fronts where men were to be found going to sea as a last resort of employment,""Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," J. Bernard Hogg, Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, page 178, citing "New York World," quoted in "Journal of the Knights of Labor", July 21, 1892. and that " [to] labor they were a 'gang of toughs and ragtails and desperate men, mostly recruited by Pinkerton and his officers from the worst elements of the community.'""Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," J. Bernard Hogg, Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, page 178, citing "The Critic," July 9, 1892.
As the relationship between business and labor became more institutionalized after World War II, labor relations consulting agencies, attorneys, and industrial psychologists began to displace the older union busting agencies. Modern union busters employ professionals to utilize national labor laws, and to influence their clients' employees. Not only are their efforts more subtle, such modern anti-union practices can be "disguised as constructive employee relations."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page xvii. The new breed of union-busters, with degrees in industrial psychology, management, and labor law, proved skilled at sidestepping requirements of both the
National Labor Relations Actand Landrum-Griffin.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 102.
By the mid-1980s, Congress had investigated, but failed to regulate abuses by labor relations consulting firms. Meanwhile, while some anti-union employers continued to rely upon the tactics of persuasion and manipulation, other besieged firms launched blatantly aggressive anti-union campaigns. Although the general direction of professional union-busting has been toward greater subtlety, strike-bound employers have turned once again to agencies that supplied replacement workers, and professional security firms whose operatives "have proved to be little more than thugs." At the dawn of the twenty-first century, methods of union busting have recalled similar tactics from the dawn of the twentieth century.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 119.
Investigations of labor spying
At the prompting of Congressman
Thomas E. Watson, the U.S. House of Representatives investigated detective agencies after the Homestead Strike. The Senate also investigated, and both houses issued reports in 1893.
In addition to the Pinkertons, the Thiel Detective Agency, the U.S. Detective Agency, Mooney and Boland's Detective Agency, and the Illinois Detective Agency were involved in the hearings. It was noted that the Pinkerton agency kept 250 rifles and 500 revolvers in the Chicago office alone. The Senate and the House reports left solutions to the states.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, page 104-107.
In both cases Congress seemed to be playing a political game. The hearings were filled with anti-Pinkerton rhetoric, but the final reports gave only conservative recommendations.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, page 103.
Commission on Industrial Relationstook testimony about espionage agencies in 1915, as did a privately funded investigation of the steel strike of 1919.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page xvi.
In 1936, a U.S. Senate Resolution called for an investigation of violations of the right to free speech and assembly and of interference with the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively. At the time, thirty percent of Pinkerton's business resulted from its industrial services.The Pinkerton Story, James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, 1951, page 234. Between 1936 and 1941, the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee of the U.S. Congress held hearings and published reports on the phenomenon of labor spying, and other aspects of industrial relations. The committee established that in some cases, a company was able to lockout its workers three days prior to a strike, based upon information that Pinkerton services provided. An example report from an informant was introduced into evidence, demonstrating that such reports singled out individual workers:
John Freeman, employee of Die Room #3 said the people should boycott the Hearst newspapers. Everything the President (F.D.R.) tries to do would be beneficial to the poor man—Hearst knocks it. Landon will put us back where we were four years ago. Harvey Hill said, "It's not fair to keep a man working nights all the time. The day men are no better than us. We want some time with our family too."The Pinkerton Story, James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, 1951, page 236.
...the so-called industrial spy system breeds fear, suspicion and animosity, tends to cause strikes and industrial warfare and is contrary to sound public policy.The Pinkerton Story, James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, 1951, page 237.
The La Follette Committee investigated the five largest detective agencies: the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, William Burns International Detective Agency, the National Corporation Service, the Railway Audit and Inspection Company, and the Corporations Auxiliary Company. Most of the agencies subpoenaed, including the Pinkerton Agency, attempted to destroy their records before receiving the subpoenas, but enough evidence remained to "piece together a picture of intrigue." It was revealed that Pinkerton had operatives "in practically every union in the country." Of 1,228 operatives, there were five in the United Mine Workers, nine in the United Rubber Workers, seventeen in the United Textile Workers, and fifty-five in the United Auto Workers that had organized General Motors.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, pages 186-187.
The rationale for spying on unions was detection of Communists.
Upon examination, however, superintendent Joseph Littlejohn admitted never finding any Communists. Labor spying, as it turned out, was merely an excuse to wreck unions.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, page 188.
The La Follette Committee concluded that labor spying (espionage) was,
...the most efficient method known to management to prevent unions from forming, to weaken them if they secure a foothold, and to wreck them when they try their strength."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page xvi.
In 1957 the McClellan Anti-Racketeering Committee investigated unions for corruption. They also investigated corporations and union busting agencies. One labor relations consultant called Labor Relations Associates was found to have committed violations of the
National Labor Relations Actof 1935, including spying on workers.Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, pages 37-38.
Case histories and analysis
Pinkerton agent in the anthracite mines
One of the best known undercover agents was
James McParlandwho, under the alias of James McKenna, infiltrated a secret society of Pennsylvania coalminers called the Molly Maguires. Debate continues over the extent of guilt on the part of the Mollies, and over the question of whether they were in some sense a labor organization, or merely a ring of assassins lashing out over unjust working conditions, inadequate pay, and the pressures of persecution against their Irish-Catholic status. In any event, McParland's testimony resulted in nineteen of the Molly Maguires going to the gallows.
iringo at Coeur d'Alene
In 1892, Pinkerton Agent Charles A. Siringo, working out of the Denver Pinkerton office, played a significant role in ending the Coeur d'Alene strike. Siringo had been hired by the
Mine Owners' Protective Association(MOA) to work at the Gem mine in Gem, Idaho. Siringo used the alias C. Leon Allison to join the local miners' union, ingratiating himself by buying drinks and loaning money to his fellow miners. He was elected to the post of secretary, providing access to all of the union's books and records.
Siringo promptly began to report all union business to his employers, allowing the mine owners to outmaneuver the miners on a number of occasions. Strikers planned to intercept a train of incoming strike breakers, so the mine owners dropped off the replacement workers in an unexpected location. The local union president, Oliver Hughes, ordered Siringo to remove a page from the union record book that recorded a conversation about possibly flooding the mines, the agent mailed that page to the Mine Owners' Association. Siringo also "told his employer's clients what they wanted to hear," referring to union officials such as
George Pettiboneas "dangerous anarchists."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 77-78.
The mine owners had locked out the strikers, and were hiring strike breakers. Meanwhile, Siringo was suspected as a spy when the MOA's newspaper, the "Coeur d'Alene Barbarian", began publishing union secrets. Although the union had advised the miners against violence,From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 78. their anger at discovering the infiltration prompted them to blow up the Frisco mine in Gem, capturing the Gem mine, plus 150 non-union miners and company guards. Concurrent with the explosion, hundreds of miners converged on Siringo's boarding house. But Siringo had sawed a hole in the floor, and made his escape after crawling for half a block under a wooden boardwalk. He fled to the hills above Coeur d'Alene.
The miners considered the battle over and issued a statement deploring "the unfortunate affair at Gem and Frisco." But the violence provided the mine owners and the governor with an excuse to bring in six companies of the
Idaho National Guardto "suppress insurrection and violence." After the Guard secured the area, Siringo came out of the mountains to finger union leaders, and those who had participated in the attacks on the Gem and Frisco mines. He wrote that for days he was busy "putting unruly cattle in the bull pen." Siringo then returned to Denver, and the following year the miners formed the Western Federation of Minersbecause of the disastrous events in Coeur d'Alene in 1892. The WFM immediately called for outlawing the hiring of labor spies, but their demand was ignored.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, pages 78-79.
During his career with Pinkerton, Charles Siringo discovered that clients were being cheated, supervisors were stealing agency funds, and operatives were inflating normal conversations with targeted radicals into conspiracies.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, pages 159-163. When Siringo retired from the Pinkerton Agency, he was so disenchanted with his experiences that he wrote a book entitled "Two Evil Isms". On the cover of the book, Uncle Sam was pictured in the grip of a boa constrictor with the names "Pinkertonism" and "Anarchism" on its sides. Frank Morn, author of "The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency", observed the following about Siringo's attempt at a tell-all book:
Two extremes were being joined: unbridled violence by radicals was matched by unbridled violence by business interests... Such attacks were more damaging because they came from a man who had been [a Pinkerton] operative for over two decades.The Eye That Never Sleeps, A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Frank Morn, 1982, page 163.
But the Pinkerton Agency suppressed Siringo's book, and only a few copies survive.
Colorado's Goldmine and Mill Strike of 1903-04
Agents sometimes situate themselves into key positions from which to wreak damage on the targeted union. One Pinkerton spy was assigned to
sabotagethe union's relief program during a 1903-04 strike which wreaked so significant an impact on the future of organized labor that it came to be called the Colorado Labor Wars. Bill Haywood, Secretary Treasurer of the Western Federation of Miners, wrote in his autobiography:
I had been having some difficulty with the relief committee of the Denver
smeltermen. At first we had been giving out relief at such a rate that I had to tell the chairman that he was providing the smelter men with more than they had had while at work. Then he cut down the rations until the wives of the smelter men began to complain that they were not getting enough to eat. Years later, when his letters were published in "The Pinkerton Labor Spy", I discovered that the chairman of the relief committe (sic) was a Pinkerton detective, who was carrying out the instructions of the agency...The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood, William D. Haywood, 1929, pages 157-58.
The individual responsible for revealing this sabotage was
Morris Friedman, the former stenographer of Pinkerton agent James McParland, who had moved to Denver and managed the regional Pinkerton office. Friedman found the practices of the detective agency in general, and of McParland in particular, revolting. His views are captured in a passage from his 1907 book "The Pinkerton Labor Spy",
The readiness of the Western Federation [of Miners] to resent the smallest encroachments on the rights of its humblest members, the generalship displayed by the organization in its struggles with different mine owners, and the fearless and vigorous campaigns of organization carried on by the Federation, have naturally aroused the fear and apprehension of mine owners; and these fears have been studiously fanned into flames of blind and furious hatred by Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, in the endeavor of the latter institution to obtain business. At the present time in many parts of the West we find Capital openly or secretly engaged in a bitter struggle with the Western Federation of Miners, to the satisfaction and immense profit of the Pinkerton Agency.
The Agency was the first to notice the activity of the Federation, and the great financial possibilities which might be realized by engaging in a prolonged struggle with it.
But it is perhaps a mistake to say the Agency, for it was, more properly speaking,
James McParland, of Mollie Maguire notoriety, whose sharp glance first took jealous note of the rapid growth of this labor union.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 21-22.
The Pinkerton agency first came to national attention when agent McParland infiltrated and then testified against the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania's
anthracite coalfields, resulting in executions and prison sentences for many of the miners.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 2.
In his exposé of the Pinkerton Agency, Friedman provides background on the sabotage efforts of A.W. Gratias, known to Pinkerton supervisors as "No. 42."
No. 42 was invited to join the union, and a short time after was an influential member... Mr. McParland himself drew up the instructions for No. 42. To begin with, the operative was instructed to create trouble between the leaders of the union. This he accomplished, and soon the union was divided into a number of hostile camps... The operative was next instructed to agitate the question of strike benefits among the men, so that they would demand financial aid from the Western Federation of Miners, and he was also told to intrigue against some of the leaders, so that the union would expel them. The chiefs being out of the way, Mr. McParland hoped that the rank and file would call the strike off.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 52-53.
The operative became so popular with the men for demanding relief that he was appointed chairman of the Relief Committee. McParland instructed him to provide relief in such large amounts that it would drain the treasury of the Federation.
He not only supplied the men with necessities, but even with luxuries and cash to spend. The operative's extreme liberality endeared him to the men, who rewarded him by electing him president of the union. We now see the unique spectacle of a Pinkerton spy, under the direct orders of Manager McParland, as president of a Western Federation of Miners' local union, and directing a bitter strike against the smelter trust. On his elevation to the presidency the operative did not relinquish his position on the relief committee, nor would the men have permitted him to do so, as they were perfectly satisfied with the way the operative squandered the money of the Federation...The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 54.
No. 42 then became a delegate and reported to the Pinkerton Agency everything that happened at the annual WFM convention.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 56-62. The operative also reported that WFM Secretary-Treasurer Haywood objected to the enormous weekly relief bills. McParland instructed the operative to "cut the relief down to an extent that would almost starve the strikers, and while doing this, to throw the blame on Secretary Haywood." The operative, now holding the key positions of delegate to the convention, head of the relief committee, and president of the local, responded that he would cut the relief "as much as possible, so as to cause dissatisfaction, and get the men against the union..."The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 64.
Intrigue and uncertainty during the Colorado Labor Wars
During the Western Federation of Miners' strike in 1903, there were several additional, very interesting examples of labor spy activities which might be cited. There was a plot to derail a train which, testimony seems to have indicated, was hatched by a detective for the railroad, and a detective for the Mine Owners' Association. The detectives charged union leaders with the crime, but they were acquitted.
There was an explosion at the Vindicator mine which took two lives. Little evidence was collected, and all who were charged with the crime were acquitted.
An explosion at the Independence Depot was never properly investigated; in fact, the powerful combination of the Mine Owners' Association, the Citizens' Alliance, and the
Colorado National Guardthought it more expedient to use the disaster as a pretext to expel the union than to investigate the resultant deaths of thirteen miners.
And, there is the special case of
Harry Orchard. While this WFM member confessed to numerous of the crimes committed during the Colorado Labor Wars (and to additional crimes, including assassinating an ex-governor,) his confessions were motivated by a desire to avoid the gallows. He also admitted to being a Pinkerton agent, and to being in the pay of the Mine Owners' Association.
Harry Orchard was convicted of murder in the assassination of
Frank Steunenberg, an ex-governor of Idaho. But first, at McParland's prompting, Orchard tried (and failed) to take three leaders of the WFM with him.
Testimony and allegiances in the 1907 assassination conspiracy cases against Harry Orchard's alleged WFM taskmasters remain very difficult to sort out. For example, another Pinkerton agent in the Cripple Creek district, "No. 28", reported that the defense was offering him money to testify. His written account, telling the Pinkerton Agency essentially what they wanted to hear—presumably as a condition of receiving money from that source—describes how he proceeded to tell the WFM defense team what "they" wanted to hear; specifically, that he would attest to "the biggest collection of lies from beginning to end I ever saw on paper." However, Pinkerton Agent "No. 28" (whoever he may have been) was not called to testify for the defense.The Pinkerton Story, James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, 1951, pages 304-305. Whether his mission might have been to betray the WFM defense team on the witness stand, subtly or dramatically, can only be guessed. The prosecution did not call him either, so we have only his reports to the Agency to go by.
McParland's Pinkerton Agency beat out the Thiel Detective Agency for the assignment to investigate Steunenberg's assassination. McParland believed that the Theil Agency must have been hired by the defense for, "Repeatedly in late 1906 and early 1907, he complained that Thiel Detectives were watching his every move..."Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble, 1997, page 329.
Measured by the trail of mayhem and uncertainty left in Harry Orchard's wake — including the utter destruction of what had been a powerful union federation in the Cripple Creek district — the confessed assassin may have been the most successful sabateur, agent provocateur, and labor spy of all. Unfortunately, historians still debate who he was working for at any given moment; who (if anyone) paid him for committing his crimes; just where his sympathies and loyalties may have rested; and — other than the murder of an ex-governor — whether Orchard was even guilty of the most horrific crimes to which he confessed.The Colorado Labor Wars 1903-1904, Elizabeth Jameson, 2006, page 10. Confronted with an immediate visit to the gallows, a persuasive case can be made that ultimately, Orchard's confession served only himself.
Lynching of Frank Little
In 1917, Frank Little, head of the General Executive Board of the IWW, was lynched in
Butte, Montana. Author Dashiell Hammett, who worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agencyat the time, was offered $5,000 to murder Little. Hammett refused, but Little was subsequently lynched by masked vigilantes, widely thought to be Pinkerton agents. [Thomas Heise, "'Going blood-simple like the natives': Contagious Urban Spaces and Modern Power in Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest"," "Modern Fiction Studies" 51, no. 3 (Fall 2005):506. This reference copied from Dashiell Hammetton March 27, 2007. Offer of $5,000 also reported in Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 248.] The Pinkerton Agency's role in union strike-breakingeventually disillusioned Hammett and he resigned, but used his knowledge of the agency's history and exploits as material for his novels.
West Virginia, mine owners used yellow-dog contracts and company-owned housing to control the miners. The company would terminate rental agreements with little or no notice, evicting strikers or suspected union miners. In 1920 in the town of Matewan, West Virginia, coal miners joined a new local of the United Mine Workers. Stone Mountain Coal Company hired the Baldwin-FeltsDetective Agency to crush the union. Thirteen agents brought guns into town during eviction procedures. The town marshall, Sid Hatfield, attempted an arrest for violation of a weapons ordinance. The Baldwin-Felts agents took Hatfield prisoner, and Mayor C.C. (Cabell) Testerman challenged their authority to do so. Shooting erupted, with ten dying, seven of them Baldwin-Felts agents.
After testimony in the case, one of the union miners was expelled from the WFM.
C.E. Lively had infiltrated the union for the company. Lively later testified before the United States Senate that he had been a Baldwin-Felts detective since 1912 or 1913. During that time he had worked undercover, with his duties taking him to Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. During the Ludlow strike in Colorado, Lively became vice-president of the United Mine Workers' local at La Veta. He returned to Mingo County, West Virginia in early 1920. He worked undercover at Howard Colleries, a company that had a tipple destroyed by fire. The investigation was kept secret even from the coal company, and Lively was fired when he was suspected of complicity.
Lively then traveled to Matewan, and participated in UMWA efforts to organize the War Eagle, Glen Alum, and Mohawk mines of Stone Mountain Coal Company. He reported all activities to the detective agency, and even brought his family to Matewan as part of his cover. He rented the lower floor of the UMWA union hall for a restaurant. Lively befriended members and officers of the union, and reported on their activities via mail sent on the train.
Battle of Matewantook the lives of seven Baldwin-Felts agents, SidHatfield and his friend Ed Chambers were summoned from the union stronghold at Matewan to answer minor strike-related sabotage charges in McDowell County. They walked up the courthouse steps, accompanied by their wives. They were shot dead by Baldwin-Felts agents C.E. Lively, Bill Salter, and Buster Pence on August 1, 1921. According to Mrs. Chambers, Lively placed a gun behind Ed Chambers' ear and fired the last shot even though she was pleading with him not to shoot again.
Neither of the two men had been armed, but one of the women reported that upon returning to the steps after having been led off by the guards, she discovered that both men had pistols in their hands. Pence was heard to remark, "kill 'em with one gun, and hand 'em another one." Although scores of people witnessed the attack, due to its brazeness they were afraid to testify. The three agents were acquitted on grounds of self-defense.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 35. The murder of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers led to a general uprising of West Virginia coal miners.
The Colorado Coal Strike of 1927
John D. Rockefeller's
Colorado Fuel and Iron(CF&I) company went bankrupt in 1990. An immense quantity of archives from the corporation that was most closely associated with the Ludlow Massacre, and stood accused of facilitating the Columbine Massacre of 1927,At the Point of Production—The Local History of the IWW, Joseph R. Conlin, 1981, page 202. were turned over to a local historical society in Pueblo, Colorado.The Newsletter of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Vol. 31:1 ISSN 0160-8460, The Colorado Fuel and Iron Archives, Jonathan Rees, March 2003, [http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/annotation/march-2003/colorado-fuel-iron-archives.html Retrieved March 22, 2007] . Among the archives were reports of spies who were hired during a coal strike led by the Industrial Workers of the World(IWW), also known as the "Wobblies". The spies were assigned "to glean intelligence on the Wobblies’ strategies and tactics, to sow disinformation, to disrupt meetings and pickets, and to expose weaknesses in the IWW organization, finances, and leadership."“X,” “XX,” and “X-3”, Spy Reports from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Archives, Colorado Heritage/Winter 2004, Jonathan Rees, page 31.
J. Bernard Hogg, who wrote "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," once observed:
Much of the hard feeling toward the Pinkertons was engendered by the fact that not infrequently detectives worked their way into high positions in the union and then revealed the intentions of the organization to the employer."Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," J. Bernard Hogg, Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, page 174, citing U. S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Labor and Education, Investigation in relation to the employment for private purposes of armed bodies of men, or detectives, in connection with differences between workmen and employers, Senate Report 1280, 52d Congress, 2nd Sess. (Washington Government Printing Office, 1893), page 79.
Agents in the 1927 Columbine strike (we don't know if they were Pinkertons, or from a different agency) were able to approach and freely converse with top level strike leaders. Kristen Svanum was the "head of the IWW" in Colorado. An agent identified only as "XX" informed his employer,
Svanum stated that he had put in over $600.00 of his private funds to finance the IWW here in Colorado, stating that he was supplied with this money from a higher power; that he was working for a peaceful revolution of conditions in the U.S?A. [sic] I tried to cause him to say what this power was but could not do so.
Sometimes the efforts of agents failed. When a strike vote was pending, labor spy "XX" reported,
Smith and myself circulated through the crowd trying to get them to postpone the strike but without any success and when the vote was called it was unanimous for the strike, even the Northern Colorado delegates voting for it.“X,” “XX,” and “X-3”, Spy Reports from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Archives, Colorado Heritage/Winter 2004, Jonathan Rees, page 34.
Agents sought to influence the portrayal of the strikers in the media, hoping thereby to control subsequent events. Since 1900, the
Colorado National Guardhad a history of crushing strikes. CF&I agents knew that the threat of violence might bring the guard into the field, thus hindering the strike at taxpayer expense. Agent "XX" described himself as a strike leader when interviewed by the media, apparently seeking to bolster the credibility of his ominous message:
The "A-P" and "Denver Post" reporters think I am a dyed-in-the-wool wobbly and have tried to interview me. In speaking about the alleged carload of arms and ammunition I did not deny this “hokum” but intimitated [sic] that if there was any violence it was against the principles of Svanum and myself and the more select class of “wobblies” but that there was an awfully rough element of “reds” coming into the field and that we might not be able to hold them in hand. Do not know if they are gullible enough to absorb this kind of stuff but can tell better when this afternoon [’] s papers come out. If they play up strong that there is likely to be violence it might hasten action on part of state authorities.“X,” “XX,” and “X-3”, Spy Reports from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Archives, Colorado Heritage/Winter 2004, Jonathan Rees, page 34.
A different view of the "alleged carload of arms and ammunition" is offered by historian Joanna Sampson:
It was curious that an organization like the IWW with its revolutionary philosophy and its reputation for violence conducted a major strike with so little violence. Miners afterwards testified that members of the automobile caravans were searched by their own leaders to be sure they did not have liquor or firearms with them. In all the arrests of strikers for picketing, there is no case where a striker was accused of carrying firearms.Slaughter in Serene: the Columbine Coal Strike Reader, Joanna Sampson, 2005, page 59.
In fact the undercover agent got his wish for state intervention:
On November 21 [of 1927] , state policemen killed six pickets and injured dozens more... Despite the fact that the violence was the fault of the state police, Governor Adams used the so-called Columbine Massacre as an excuse to call out the National Guard to restore order throughout the state. With soldiers on guard at mine gates, mass picketing ceased and more and more miners returned to their jobs. The strike continued, but it lost considerable momentum.“X,” “XX,” and “X-3”, Spy Reports from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Archives, Colorado Heritage/Winter 2004, Jonathan Rees, page 37.
Hogg explains that agents advocating, provoking, or using violence is a common scenario:
A detective will join the ranks of the strikers and at once become an ardent champion of their cause. He is next found committing an aggravated assaultupon some man or woman who has remained at work, thereby bringing down upon the heads of the officers and members of the assembly or union directly interested, the condemnation of all honest people, and aiding very materially to demoralize the organization and break their ranks. He is always on hand in the strikers'meeting to introduce some extremely radical measure to burn the mill or wreck a train, and when the meeting has adjourned he is ever ready to furnish the Associated Press with a full account of the proposed action, and the country is told that a "prominent and highly respected member" of the strikers' organizationhas just revealed a most daring plot to destroy life and property, but dare not become known in connection with the exposure for fear of his life!"Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," J. Bernard Hogg, Pennsylvania History 11 (July 1944), 171--199, page 175, citing "Journal of United Labor", July 12, 1888. Hogg block-quotation contains a typo, interpretation is assumed as a single quote rendered as a comma.
Celebrated union organizers are not immune
union organizers may yield to the temptation to spy on other unions during strikes, based perhaps upon misplaced sectarian loyalties or ideological differences. Mike Livoda of the United Mine Workers (UMWA) was one of the celebrated organizers from the Ludlow strike of 1913-14. Livoda was so revered by the mineworkers that he is the only individual buried at the Ludlow Monument.Photo of Mike Livoda's headstone at Ludlow Monument, http://www.rebelgraphics.org/ludlow_second_century.html Retrieved March 27, 2007. When Professor Eric Margolis was researching the 1927 Wobbly strike, he encountered evidence that Mike Livoda "actually hired out to spy on the Wobblies and provided the Governor of Colorado with advice on strike breaking tactics."Slaughter in Serene: the Columbine Coal Strike Reader, Eric Margolis, 2005, page 28, citing letters from Mike Livoda to Judge T.B. Poxson, dated November 1927, found in Governor Billy Adams File, Colorado State Archives and Records Center.
The United Mine Workers in the Rocky Mountain region
In the Western U.S., District 15 of the United Mine Workers (UMWA) is perhaps best known for the strike that spawned the
Ludlow Massacre. In fact, the UMWA had tried to organize Colorado and Wyoming miners over a period of many years. This was a long, bitter, and hard-fought struggle.
The United Mine Workers in Wyoming
The Union Pacific Coal Company in Wyoming hired the services of Thomas J. Williams, Pinkerton Operative "No. 15."
Whenever UMWA President Mitchell sent an organizer to Wyoming, Operative Williams introduced himself as "an old, good-standing member of the United Mine Workers," and offered to help the new fellow with his tasks. Operative Williams gladly arranged all the secret meetings with Wyoming miners. After approximately fifty secret meetings in a row were broken up by mine superintendents or foremen attending unannounced, causing prospective union members to scatter, the UMWA acknowledged defeat in Wyoming.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 172-176.
The United Mine Workers in Colorado
In 1903-04, the Pinkerton Agency had J. Frank Strong, operative "No. 28" in Fremont County, and Robert M. Smith, operative "No. 38" in Las Animas County. The two agents performed the same work — both had infiltrated the top ranks of the UMWA — yet they did not know each other. Because of this compartmentalization, the reports of these two operatives occasionally cite intelligence on each other.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 152.
The coal miners were unhappy about low wages paid in
scrip. These were company-issued coupons redeemable only at the company store, where prices were exorbitant. The miners also wanted the eight hour day, and the right to join a union. The UMWA declared a strike, and nearly all the coal miners in Colorado's Southern Field walked out.
The strike seemed destined to succeed. However, whenever the union sent an organizer to talk to miners, operative Strong would send that information to his Pinkerton handler. By chance, it seemed that groups of thugs would always obtain the same message. Morris Friedman, the former stenographer of the Pinkerton Agency in Colorado, reported:
As a result of Operative Smith's "clever and intelligent" work, a number of union organizers received severe beatings at the hands of unknown masked men, presumably in the employ of the company.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 163-164.
Friedman offers examples of these incidents:
About February 13th, 1904, William Farley, of Alabama, a member of the [UMWA] National Executive Board ... and the personal representative of [UMWA] President Mitchell ... addressed coal miners' meetings ... [on their return trip] eight masked men held them up with revolvers, dragged them from their wagon, threw them to the ground, beat them, kicked them, and almost knocked them into insensibility.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 163-164.
On Saturday, April 30th, 1904, W.M. Wardjon, a national organizer of the United Mine Workers, while on board a train enroute to Pueblo, was assaulted by three men at Sargents, about thirty miles west of Salida. Mr. Wardjon was beaten into unconsciousness.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, pages 164.
Under repeated attack, the 1903-04 UMWA strike effort failed, with both leadership and membership despondent over the turn of events.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 167.
However, UMWA President Mitchell was determined to reverse the failure. He decided that one special position, that of "national organizer", should be created to oversee all organizing efforts for the union. After considering a range of candidates, Mitchell selected for this vital position, "Pinkerton Operative "No. 38," Robert M. Smith".The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 171.
Colorado Fuel and Iron: a pattern of brutality
Morris Friedman accused the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), operated by
John D. Rockefellerand his lieutenant in Colorado, Jesse Welborn, of responsibility for the beatings during the 1903-04 strike.The Pinkerton Labor Spy, Morris Friedman, Wilshire Book Company, 1907, page 164.
If the accusations of orchestrated brutality by CF&I were true, this would be the same company that later hired two Baldwin-Felts gunmen, George Belcher and Walter Belk, who provoked and then shot UMWA organizer Gerald Lippiatt just before the 1913 strike.Out of the Depths, Barron B. Beshoar, 1942-1980, pages 51-53. This would be the same company that created the "Death Special" — an armored car equipped with two machine guns — in its Pueblo steel foundry, and turned it over to Baldwin-Felts agents who used it to fire, unprovoked, into the tent colonies of striking coal miners.Journal of the West, Western Coal Mining as a Way of Life, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Eric Margolis, July 1985, page 78. Even after a "greater" spasm of violence, the killing of women and children in the 1914
Ludlow Massacre, the new head of the enterprise, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., would maintain faith in the stewardship of CF&I by Jesse Welborn. In 1927, Welborn's attitudes hadn't much changed; he would convince the Colorado Governor that coal miners "needed to be kept in their place and that history would chastise him" if he did not dispatch the Colorado state rangers to troubled areas.At the Point of Production—The Local History of the IWW, Joseph R. Conlin, 1981, page 202. Soon after, the rangers committed another massacre of striking coal miners.
Union organizers turn tables on the company
However, in 1912, much of the bloodshed was still in the future. The United Mine Workers had discovered the extent to which CF&I relied upon spies, and union officials had learned their lesson well. The organization ended its efforts to form local unions. All membership cards were issued in secret, as members not of a local, but of the international union. Members did not know who had joined, and who had not. The company spy system was finally frustrated.
Unaware that organizing was continuing, the two main coal operators in the Colorado Southern Coal Field, CF&I and the Victor-American Fuel company, believed they had won. Abusive practices which had been softened during the open organizing drives were revived. Revolt was in the air.Out of the Depths, Barron B. Beshoar, 1942-1980, page 17.
Then the United Mine Workers announced a new organizing drive in letters sent to the newspapers. But this organizing drive would be different:
Twenty-one pairs of organizers were put through a special course in the Denver [UMWA] office and then sent into the Southern Field. Their operation was simple, but effective. One member of each team was known as the active organizer; the other was the passive organizer. The so-called active organizer moved into the open and was known to everyone... as an organizer. His passive team mate posed as a miner looking for work. He cussed the unions and their leadership, and obtained a job in the heavily guarded mines. He made friends with officers of the company and, where possible, hired out as a coal company spotter... Once the passive organizer was installed in the mine, his active team mate sought new members in that mine. If a miner joined, the active organizer kept the man's membership secret and sent his card directly to the Denver office... If a working miner refused to join, his name was sent to the passive organizer who immediately reported to the company that John Cotino had joined the union. The result was always the same. The company sent John Cotino packing... In this manner a constant stream of anti-union and non-union men, the confirmed strike breakers and scabs, were kept streaming [out] . The companies unwittingly sent the faithful out, while the active organizer sent carefully coached men of union affiliation to apply for the jobs that had to be filled.Out of the Depths, Barron B. Beshoar, 1942-1980, pages 49-50.
In one month, this system caused the coal operators to fire more than 3,000 non-union men. Their places were taken by 3,000 union men.Out of the Depths, Barron B. Beshoar, 1942-1980, page 50. In September 1913 a strike was called, and twelve thousand miners laid down their tools. Only with significant brutality would this new strike be defeated.
Case reports, active union busting agencies
Vance International Asset Protection Team
If any modern agency deserves to be described as following the traditions of the Baldwin-Felts and Pinkerton Agencies, it is the Asset Protection Team (APT) of Vance International (VI), which claims to be the nation’s "largest and most respected provider of "labor disruption security"."The Union Avoidance Industry in the United States, British Journal of Industrial Relations, John Logan, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, December 2006, pages 651–675. Emphasis added.
With regional offices in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Ottawa, Mexico City, London, and Sao Paulo, Vance International is operated by Charles Vance, the president and founder of the company. The former son-in-law of now-deceased U.S. President Gerald Ford. VI recruits through advertisements in the
National Rifle Associationmagazine, Soldier of Fortune, Air Force Times, and other military and mercenary periodicals.
John Logan, a labor expert at the
London School of Economics, provides this overview of APT and its parent corporation:
Although troubled by the activities of all strike management firms, unions have viewed [Charles] Vance’s high-level connections to the intelligence and law enforcement communities as a particular threat to their activities. His standing and credibility among federal law enforcement agencies, combined with his secret service training, puts Vance in a strong position to stimulate criminal investigations against union members, as well as to provide evidence to companies that wish to litigate against unions. Vance’s APT claims to have ‘reinvented’ strike security by ‘using photography and video to document unfair union practices’ (Vance International, Inc. 2001). Critics contend that it operates as a private army and strikebreaking service, and the operations of Vance’s APT subsidiary on behalf of management are not unlike those of a mini-police force. But the firm has also introduced a new level of sophistication into the strike management industry. Its security guards are outfitted with high-tech, state-of-the-art law enforcement equipment. In the 1980s and 1990s, Vance allegedly operated a paramilitary training ‘farm’ where he prepared his security forces for action. In the late 1980s, the firm charged US$150–200 a day for each agent in the field (U.S. News & World Report 1989). Vance states that its security team acts as a ‘peace-keeping force’ during potentially disruptive situations, while unions call them a ‘renegade bunch of thugs’. They consider VI and other ‘twenty-first century Pinkertons’ as ‘provocateurs of violence’ and ‘high-tech goon squads’, and have accused Vance of inciting violence at Pittston Coal, Detroit Newspaper, and other acrimonious strikes.The Union Avoidance Industry in the United States, British Journal of Industrial Relations, John Logan, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, December 2006, pages 651–675. Emphasis added.
When the workers at the
Detroit Free Pressand the The Detroit Newswent on strike in 1995, they first relied upon Huffmaster Security, and then they hired the Asset Protection Team. Strikers claimed that the APT intentionally provoked them in order to secure an injunction.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 121. APT guards have been accused of harassing union workers by stopping them on the highway, video-taping them in their homes and in their backyards, and compiling dossiers on strikers.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 126-128.
United Mine Workers(UMWA) strike at the Massey Coal Company in 1984, the APT deployed hundreds of guards with M-16s, shotguns, and pistols. The APT supplied the mine operators with a sniping-countersniping expert. The APT guards wore riot helmets, shin guards, and body armor. A reporter claimed that "the security forces aggravated more violence than they prevented."From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 123.
Around 1990, when the Pittston Coal Company withdrew from its contractual obligation to provide health coverage to widows, pensioners, and disabled miners, APT operatives clad in blue jumpsuits, dark glasses, and combat boots soon arrived. They set up a sniper's nest at the biggest mining operation. Special agents used cameras, camcorders, infra-red film for night photography, and high-tech listening devices to document incidents in order to secure restraining orders, injunctions, criminal and civil actions against the strikers.
Union supporters believed provocations were intentional. "If they see you at the Piggly Wiggly, they'll pull out behind you. Sometimes they'll get in front of you and slow down and when you try to pass, they speed up just to agitate you," complained a miner's daughter. Union leaders warned strikers to ignore obscene gestures by the APT agents, even when they were aimed at family members. Ultimately, sixty-four million dollars in fines (much of which was later forgiven) were leveled against the UMWA.
However, most residents of the strike zone regarded the men from these security forces as gun thugs and mercenaries. After investing nearly twenty million dollars in replacement workers and in their private army, Pittston lost the battle for community support, and eventually lost the strike.From Blackjacks To Briefcases — A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States, Robert Michael Smith, 2003, page 124-126.
Corporations that spy
Wal-Mart surveillance of employees
In the book "The Case Against
Wal-Mart", author Al Norman cites many of the usual criticisms of the big box retail chain. He has written,
Wal-Mart is so terrified of union organizing, the company allegedly monitors some of its stores' phone calls and emails. Jon Lehman, a former Wal-Mart store manager, told Bloomberg news in February 2004 that Wal-Mart has a 60' x 60' room in Bentonville in which two dozen people with headsets conduct surveillance on calls and emails from stores, to see whether anyone is talking about union organizing.The Case Against Wal-Mart, Al Norman, 2004, page 7.
Wal-Mart has responded that they monitor stores only if there is a risk of a bomb threat. But Norman believes,
...there is no more explosive issue at Wal-Mart than the feared depth-charge of union sympathizers among its own workforce.The Case Against Wal-Mart, Al Norman, 2004, page 7.
Wal-Mart's surveillance department has generated significant media attention. In a story headlined, "Wal-Mart gets gag order against ex-security worker," the
Associated Pressreported on April 10, 2007 that Wal-Mart succeeded in obtaining a gag order to prevent Bruce Gabbard, a former "security operative" for the company, from discussing the company with reporters.Associated Press article, StarNewsOnline.com Star-News, Wilmington, NC, by Marcus Kabel, http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070410/NEWS/704100335/-1/State Retrieved April 17, 2007. The article notes that there has been:
...a string of revelations about the retailer's large surveillance operations and its business plans... The suit and restraining order were filed two days after Wal-Mart apologized to activist shareholders for Gabbard's revelation that they were considered potential threats and ahead of a story in Monday's editions of the Wall Street Journal on Gabbard's claim that Wal-Mart had a super-secret "Project Red" aimed at bolstering its stagnant share price.Associated Press article, StarNewsOnline.com Star-News, Wilmington, NC, by Marcus Kabel, http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070410/NEWS/704100335/-1/State Retrieved April 17, 2007.
Gabbard has alleged that "Wal-Mart had widespread surveillance operations against targets including shareholders, critics, suppliers, the board of directors and employees,"Associated Press article, SignOnSanDiego.com, The Union-Tribune, San Diego, CA, "Ark. court says Wal-Mart can copy data of fired worker," http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/business/20070413-1638-wal-marteavesdropping-gabbard.html Retrieved April 18, 2007. and that "most of his spying activities were sanctioned by superiors."Reuters article, kplctv.com, Lake Charles, LA, "Wal-Mart calls business reviews good governance" http://www.kplctv.com/Global/story.asp?S=6343382&nav=menu66_3 Retrieved April 17, 2007. It has also been alleged that the corporation assigned a "long-haired employee" wearing a microphoneWal-MartWatch, Washington, DC, "INSIDE WAL-MART’S SECRET ‘PROJECT RED’," "Wal-Mart’s Firing Of a Security Aide Bites the Firm Back," from the Wall Street Journal, http://walmartwatch.com/blog/archives/inside_wal_marts_secret_project_red/ Retrieved April 17, 2007. to infiltrate a group that is critical of Wal-Mart.Reuters UK article, "US: Fired Wal-Mart worker claims surveillance ops: report" http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14439 Retrieved from CorpWatch, Oakland, CA, April 18, 2007. Wal-Mart used a surveillance van to monitor the organization from "the perimeter."Wal-MartWatch, Washington, DC, "Wal-Mart Spies on Wal-Mart Watch Employees," "WAL-MART WATCH STATEMENT ON WAL-MART’S ‘THREAT RESEARCH’ SURVEILLANCE OPERATION," April 04 Press Release from Nu Wexler, http://walmartwatch.com/press/releases/wal_mart_spies_on_wal_mart_watch_employees/ Retrieved April 17, 2007. Wal-Mart has characterized its security operations as normal.
Labor spy agencies
These are agencies which have been known to supply operatives to corporations for the purpose of establishing or maintaining control over unionization efforts, beyond simply providing security services — former agencies, current agencies, and agencies that appear to have quit the business of union-busting:
Books and articles about labor spying
(In chronological order)
*"The Pinkerton Labor Spy", Morris Friedman, 1907.
*"The Pinkertons: A Detective Dynasty", Richard Wilmer Rowan, Boston: Little, Brown, 1931.
*"Spy Overhead", Clinch Calkins, Ayer Publishing, 1937, relates the findings of the LaFollette Committee.
*"The Labor Spy Racket", Leo Huberman, DeCapo Books,1937.
*"Spying on Labour",
Fred Rose, New Era Publishers, 1939.
*"Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question",
J. Bernard Hogg, July 1944.
*"The Pinkerton Story", James David Horan, Howard Swiggett 1951.
*"Allan Pinkerton: America's First Private Eye", Dodd, New York: Mead, 1963.
*"The Pinkertons: The Detective Dynasty That Made History", James D. Horan, New York: Crown Publishers, 1967.
*"The Eye That Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency", Frank Morn, 1982.
*"Private detective agencies and labour discipline in the United States, 1855-1946", Robert P. Weiss, Historical Journal. 29:1 (March 1986), pp. 87-107.
*"Confessions of a Union Buster", Marty Levitt and Terry C. Toczynski, 1993.
*"Call in Pinkertons: American Detectives at Work for Canada", David Ricardo Williams, 1998.
*"Rebel Life: The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, Labour Spy", Mark Leier, New Star Books, 1999.
*"Strikebreaking and Intimidation: Mercenaries and Masculinity in Twentieth-Century America", Stephen H. Norwood, 2002.
*"From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States", Robert Michael Smith, 2003.
*"From the Pinkertons to the PATRIOT Act: The Trajectory of Political Policing in the United States, 1870 to the Present", Ward Churchill, 2004.
*"'X,' 'XX' and 'X-3': Labor Spy Reports from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company Archives," Jonathan Rees, Colorado Heritage (Winter 2004): 28-41. http://www.rebelgraphics.org/CFandI_labor_spies.pdf
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