Back to Class Politics

Back to Class Politics

If you go to Britain and attend a Labour party rally, you will probably hear the audience sing “The Red Flag.” That song begins, “The people’s flag is deepest red. It’s shrouded oft our martyred dead. But ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, Their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.”

You may find this song maudlin and melodramatic. But it will remind you of something that many people have forgotten: that the history of the labor unions, in Britain, America, and everywhere else in the world, is a blood-drenched history of violent struggle. Like the civil rights movement, the labor movement owed its successes to repeated and deliberate criminal acts—acts that we now think of as heroic civil disobedience, but which were brutally punished. To obstruct scabs from entering a workplace into which they are invited by the owners of that workplace is a criminal act, just as it is a criminal act to sit in at a lunch counter after the proprietor asks you to leave.

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Lima