At a time when the connection between guns and radical activism is being fiercely debated, I want to point to two moments in American Labor history where militants chose NOT to carry guns — the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and the Flint Sit Down Strikes.
Both of these strikes took place in parts of the country where many people owned guns and used them for hunting. And the leaders of the strike were radicals who not only believed in armed struggle, but were fully aware of movements, such as the Farm Holiday Association and the Alabama Sharecroppers Union, where strikers used guns to defend themselves from authorities, and private guards hired by banks or landowners.
However, in movements which required in one instance, workers seizing control of city streets, and in another, workers seizing and occupying factories, the strikers decided to use every form of force short of guns — chains, clubs, projectiles — on the grounds that if they decided to use guns, even if it led to a short-run victory over local law enforcement, it would lead to the Army or the National Guard being brought in to suppress the strike.
This decision proved to be a wise one. In Minneapolis, the strikers had at their disposal more than 5,000 cars and trucks which they used to make sure that no truck traffic took place in the city without the strikers permission. If anyone tried to defy them, they slashed tires, overturned trucks, beat up would-be strike breakers – but they never shot anyone. The police were so frustrated by the effectiveness of these tactics that they decided to gas and shoot some of the strikers, a move which totally backfired, leading to an unprecedented show of popular support for the strike in the form of a march of 5,000-plus people through the streets of Minneapolis
In Flint, when police tried to evict strikers from one of the factories, the strikers beat them off with bricks, wrenches, freezing water shot from roofs and roving bands who disabled police vehicles. And when police, in frustration, started shooting, public opinion in the city turned so decisively in favor of the strikers that the police never tried to evict the strikers again.
Both of these strikes, by the way, were successful, leading in Minneapolis to the massive consolidation of the Teamsters Union as the bargaining agent for truckers and warehouse workers and in Flint to the unionization of General Motors.
There are two lessons here. First, people who own guns do not always have to use them when they are under duress, or are in a life and death political struggle, and second, sometimes militant justice movements use better when they avoid gun battles rather than engage in them *
I put these examples forward to stir debate and discussion on a difficult subject
With A Brooklyn Accent
Tuesday, 1 January 2013