January 3, 2015

FIRE THEM:

Where de Blasio Is Right : How Calvin Coolidge handled a 1919 police strike in Boston holds lessons for New York today.  (Amity Shlaes, 12/31/14, National Review)

The stories of New York today and Boston after World War I have some similarities. In Boston in 1919, the policemen also had compelling reason to complain: Inflation had climbed wildly after World War I, but police pay was not keeping up. Strapped after the war, the authorities neglected upkeep of police-station houses, which were becoming unbearably filthy. In at least one house, vermin actually chewed on officers' helmets. Back then, as now, authorities agreed to serious negotiations with the police. The man at the top of the chain of command, Governor Calvin Coolidge, was famous for his ability to get along with just about any ethnicity, including the mostly Irish Catholic patrolmen. One of the few differences between Boston then and New York now was that in Boston the police commissioner reported to the governor, not the mayor.

When the policemen walked out in Boston, riots ran wild, with looting and fighting all across the city. In response, Coolidge called out the National Guard. The guard did not approach the troublemakers gingerly: In a famously controversial move, soldiers rounded up gamblers on Boston Common. Coolidge was a Republican, and Mayor Andrew James Peters, a Democrat, was furious. Yet Coolidge delved into the law books and quoted chapter and verse to make clear that he, not the mayor, was in charge. Coolidge backed up Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis's decision to fire the striking policemen.

Critics outside Boston also were not placated. President Woodrow Wilson had openly shown favor to Samuel Gompers, the labor leader with whose union the Boston police had affiliated. Gompers's American Federation of Labor was famously moderate, and conventional wisdom said public officials should befriend Gompers, or else the hardcore union, the Industrial Workers of the World, would win a greater following. Yet when Gompers, de Blasio-like, made a plea for moderation and more negotiation, Coolidge simply hardened, wiring, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime."

Posted by at January 3, 2015 10:15 AM
  

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