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To this long history of repression add the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Wednesday in Janus v. AFSCME, ruling that nonunion workers can't be required to pay fees to public sector unions. The case stems from Mark Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, suing because he felt that his $45 a month union dues violated his right to free speech. One would think that a case worker would have more pressing things to worry about, but there you are.
This ruling, allowing free riders to enjoy the concessions won from management but not contribute to the organization that wins them, is considered a devastating blow to the labor movement.
But unions have suffered devastating blows before.
The Knights of Labor had grown to 40,000 members when it struck for an eight hour day in May, 1886, then lost 75 percent of its membership in the next year, as business owners retaliated and clamped down.
Unions still went on to win that eight hour day, the five day week. Sick pay. Child labor ended. Safety regulations put in place, business owners complaining all the while that permitting workers to enjoy healthful lives and decent salaries would be the ruin of them. Donald Trump didn't invent lying.
No union success was ever achieved without suffering a setback, a counterstroke, retribution and intrigue and betrayal. Every step forward met with a push back.
Not every setback was from the outside, either. Unions, like all organizations involving fallible humans beings, were hobbled by internal division, corruption, extremism and racism. No account of the obstacles they face would be complete without mentioning them. Sometimes unions played in the hands of their enemies, making it easier for them. Nor have these problems gone away.
Chicago had a key role both in the origins of labor and in its suppression. Fort Sheridan, remember, was purchased by the Commercial Club in 1887 and donated to the Federal government for the specific purpose of putting a U.S. Army garrison there, to be available to squash union activity in the city.
And indeed the troops were put in place and used, once, to suppress the Pullman Strike of 1894. Soldiers got the trains running again.
This court ruling, coupled with the shameful endorsement of Trump's Muslim ban the day before, is a vindication of the hardball tactics that denied Barack Obama the chance to name Merrick Garland, and instead allowed Donald Trump to install Neil Gorsuch. That, combined with the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote, who contributed to past erosions of American liberty, make for a black week, when the true enormity of the Trump disaster began to manifest itself. A man of bottomless pettiness, who hours earlier was attacking a talk show host and a Virginia restaurant, could be the most significant president in 75 years.
Before Trump could almost be funny, with his wild insults and accusations.
Now, not so funny anymore.
Before, at times it felt like they were winning.
Now, it feels a little like they've won.
Let that feeling settle, for a moment. Let it register. Then shake it off.
Because these setbacks are also a fire bell in the night to those Democrats still fretting over public comity and how nice they should be. Whether they can attempt the tactics that have worked so well for so long for Republicans. This is smoke in the air. There is no room for indecision anymore. This is disaster that must be battled. The Right is coming to burn up your freedom your livelihood, everything. No one can pretend to be confused or uncertain any more.
That is the bad news. The good news is the union faithful, the American patriots, have suffered worse defeats. Bruised, battered, humiliated, they never gave up. Neither can we. The battle isn't over. It has just begun in earnest.