Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s threat to use the National Guard against state workers has a great deal of symbolic meaning beyond simple-minded demagoguery. The last time the Guard was used against striking public employees was in 1968 during the Memphis sanitation workers strike. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to support the strikers when he was murdered. The Guard was a valuable tool of employers and anti-union Governors in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Of the many brutal attacks against strikers by the guard, the Ludlow, Colorado massacre of 1914 stands out. Six men, two women and 12 children died when guardsmen attacked the striking miners’ camp.
This piece in Salon Magazine traces the history of the National Guard and unions. The author Stephanie Taylor is a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and a doctoral candidate in American history at Georgetown.