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|The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page. (May 2010)|
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, trade unions have been the frequent targets of orchestrated campaigns 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 â apparently much less common, according to resources â 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. In at least one case, an employer hired labor spies not only to spy upon strikers, but also upon strikebreakers that he had hired.
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. Labor spying is one of the most formidable tools of the union busters.
In The Detective Business, Robin Dunbar observed,
Labor spies are most typically agents employed by corporations, or hired through the services of union busting agencies, for the purpose of monitoring, disempowering, subverting, or destroying unions, or undermining actions taken by those unions.
|The scope of this topic is quite broad, encompassing a considerable amount of history and a variety of circumstances.|
|Guard services â Labor spying frequently coincided with, complemented, and facilitated guard services. These two activities of the "labor discipline" agencies must necessarily be discussed together.|
|Industrial espionage â Corporations may employ agents for purposes of industrial espionage or sabotage against other corporations. While interesting, such policies or practices are beyond the scope of this article.|
|Government programs â Government-initiated programs of infiltration, spying, or sabotage such as COINTELPRO may seem similar in many ways, but are also not considered in this article. We are particularly concerned with spying on labor organizations that is conducted by, or for the benefit of, private corporations, or spying conducted by unions, carried out against corporations, against other unions, or against union membership.|
|Geographic region â If this topic seems somewhat U.S.-centric, that may not be surprising. The book From Blackjacks to Briefcases states that only in the United States has the struggle between management and labor resulted in such a contingent of mercenaries who specialize in breaking strikes. However, even if labor spies have been less common in other countries, their stories are important to balance this history.|
|About this article â This article is primarily about spies hired during struggles between unions and corporations, or between competing 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.
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), 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. 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." Therefore, actual labor spy reports, and even records of their existence, are a rare commodity.
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.
|â||To stop a union proponentâa pusher, in the anti-union lexiconâthe [union] buster will go anywhere, not just to the lunch room, but into the bedroom if necessary. The buster not only is a terrorist; he is also a spy. My team and I routinely pried into workers' police records, personnel files, credit histories, medical records, and family lives in search of a weakness that we could use to discredit union activists.||â|
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.
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.
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.
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." 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.
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.
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."
|â||Once in a while, a worker is impeccable. So some consultants resort to lies. To fell the sturdiest union supporters in the 1970s, I frequently launched rumors that the targeted worker was gay or was cheating on his wife. It was a very effective technique...||â|
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."
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.
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.
The same agencies that provide labor spies often provide guards who act in concert with the intelligence services.
[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."
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."
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 massacre occurred] was later exposed as a private detective."
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.
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.
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 â who for years had depended upon intimate contact with nurse's aids and other care-givers â 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.
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 â through criminal mischief perpetrated by the union buster.
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 Miners WFM 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 â which included a banker, a judge, a newspaper publisher and the local sheriff â 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 â the very location of his alleged murder â 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 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 authors of The Pinkerton Story conclude that the Pinkerton official declined to offer such a service, as it "was not available."
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 Workers local in Lansing, Michigan. The remaining five were Pinkertons.
As early as 1855, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency provided "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.
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 blacklist had been used to destroy their union.
At an 1888 convention of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers that 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 discussions and recorded all the minutes of the meetings at the convention.
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.
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. The whole city was outraged, and the mayor described "Pinkertonism" as medieval barbarism. An article in The Nation magazine gave the killing national exposure. There was a growing outcry about Pinkertonism, although no concrete steps were taken to control such agencies.
It was not until after the Homestead Strike of 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."
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.
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.
In 1904, Samuel Gompers observed that progressive liberal public opinion was prompting employers to become more clandestine in their anti-union activities. Delegates to the Massachusetts state AFL convention concluded that private detective agencies not only had "assumed formidable proportions," they threatened to "Russianize" American society. 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 Hellâ 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."
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.
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. More than two hundred agencies offered undercover operatives to their clients.
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 Board estimated that American industrialists spent eighty million dollars spying on their workers. General Motors alone 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.
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 Pinkerton announced 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."
|â||While more overt forms of labor control often led to violence, the undercover operator or missionary was able to destroy unionization efforts without alarming the public.||â|
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 outlawed spying on and intimidating union activists, provoking violence, and company unions. 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.
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," 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.'"
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." 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 Act and Landrum-Griffin.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 lock out 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 manâHearst 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 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 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 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 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."
In 1957 the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management (McClellan 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 Act of 1935, including spying on workers.
One of the best known undercover agents was James McParland who, 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.
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 Pettibone as "dangerous anarchists."
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, 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 Guard to "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 Miners because 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.
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. 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.
But the Pinkerton Agency suppressed Siringo's book, and only a few copies survive.
Charlie Siringo was not the only agent to have infiltrated the Coeur d'Alene miners' unions. In his book Big Trouble, author J. Anthony Lukas mentions that Thiel Operative 53 had also infiltrated, and had been the union secretary at Wardner, Idaho. in 1906 this agent "worked inside the miners union at Goldfield, Nevada. He was trusted by many union members in mining camps throughout the Northwest."
Agents sometimes situate themselves into key positions from which to wreak damage on the targeted union. One Pinkerton spy was assigned to sabotage the 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.
I had been having some difficulty with the relief committee of the Denver smelter men. 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 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 agency first came to national attention when agent McParland infiltrated and then testified against the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal fields, resulting in executions and prison sentences for many of the miners.
In his exposΓ© 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 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...
No. 42 then became a delegate and reported to the Pinkerton Agency everything that happened at the annual WFM convention. 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..."
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 Guard thought 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 hearâpresumably as a condition of receiving money from that sourceâdescribes 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. 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..."
Measured by the trail of mayhem and uncertainty left in Harry Orchard's wake â including the utter destruction of what had been a powerful union federation in the Cripple Creek district â 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 â other than the murder of an ex-governor â whether Orchard was even guilty of the most horrific crimes to which he confessed. Confronted with an immediate visit to the gallows, a persuasive case can be made that ultimately, Orchard's confession served only himself.
The Amalgamated Association of Street Car Employees (AASCE) sought a contract with Boston's public transit system in 1912. Company negotiator Cyrus S. Ching asked for a pledge by both sides to discontinue the use of labor spies. The union protested, claiming they had made no such use of spies. Ching summoned one of his assistants, a young man whom Ching had observed peering into records and communications that had nothing to do with his job. Ching said that he had intentionally provided misinformation to the assistant. Ching then announced that he would not fire the employee, and also that the transit company had used both spies and provocateurs against the union, but that the company would cease that practice. Encouraged by such openness, the union promptly reached an agreement with the company.
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 Agency at 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. The Pinkerton Agency's role in union strike-breaking eventually disillusioned Hammett and he resigned, but used his knowledge of the agency's history and exploits as material for his novels.
In 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-Felts Detective 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.
After the Battle of Matewan took the lives of seven Baldwin-Felts agents, Sid Hatfield 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. The murder of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers led to a general uprising of West Virginia coal miners.
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, were turned over to a local historical society in Pueblo, Colorado. 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 Wobbliesâ strategies and tactics, to sow disinformation, to disrupt meetings and pickets, and to expose weaknesses in the IWW organization, finances, and leadership."
Historian 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.
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.
Agents sought to influence the portrayal of the strikers in the media, hoping thereby to control subsequent events. Since 1900, the Colorado National Guard had 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 âhokumâ but intimitated [sic] that if there was any violence it was against the principles of Svanum and myself and the more select class of âwobbliesâ but that there was an awfully rough element of âredsâ 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[â]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.
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.
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.
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 assault upon 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' organization has 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!
Even ardent 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. 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."
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 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.
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 â both had infiltrated the top ranks of the UMWA â yet they did not know each other. Because of this compartmentalization, the reports of these two operatives occasionally cite intelligence on each other.
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.
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.
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.
Under repeated attack, the 1903-04 UMWA strike effort failed, with both leadership and membership despondent over the turn of events.
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.
Morris Friedman accused the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), operated by John D. Rockefeller and his lieutenant in Colorado, Jesse Welborn, of responsibility for the beatings during the 1903-04 strike.
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. This would be the same company that created the "Death Special" â an armored car equipped with two machine guns â 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. 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. Soon after, the rangers committed another massacre of striking coal miners.
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.
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.
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. 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.
The Asset Protection Team (APT) of Vance International (VI), a modern agency described as following the traditions of the Baldwin-Felts and Pinkerton Agencies, claims to be the nationâs "largest and most respected provider of labor disruption security."
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 Association magazine, 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] Vanceâs 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. Vanceâs APT claims to have âreinventedâ strike security by âusing photography and video to document unfair union practicesâ (Vance International, Inc. 2001). Critics contend that it operates as a private army and strikebreaking service, and the operations of Vanceâs 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 âfarmâ where he prepared his security forces for action. In the late 1980s, the firm charged US$150â200 a day for each agent in the field (U.S. News & World Report 1989). Vance states that its security team acts as a âpeace-keeping forceâ during potentially disruptive situations, while unions call them a ârenegade bunch of thugsâ. They consider VI and other âtwenty-first century Pinkertonsâ as âprovocateurs of violenceâ and âhigh-tech goon squadsâ, and have accused Vance of inciting violence at Pittston Coal, Detroit Newspaper, and other acrimonious strikes.
When the workers at the Detroit Free Press and the The Detroit News went 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. 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.
During a 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."
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.
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.
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.
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 Press reported 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. 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.
Gabbard has alleged that "Wal-Mart had widespread surveillance operations against targets including shareholders, critics, suppliers, the board of directors and employees," and that "most of his spying activities were sanctioned by superiors." It has also been alleged that the corporation assigned a "long-haired employee" wearing a microphone to infiltrate a group that is critical of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart used a surveillance van to monitor the organization from "the perimeter." Wal-Mart has characterized its security operations as normal.
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 â former agencies, current agencies, and agencies that appear to have quit the business of union-busting:
|Agencies once in the business|
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