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Just Doing Our Job, Ma’am: Defending the State Police

Labor conflicts in Pennsylvania’s coal mines and steel mills during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were usually violent. In order to insure that they had the upper hand and to avoid relying on local police (who were sometimes sympathetic to strikers), mine and mill operators set up their own “Coal and Iron Police” as early as the 1870s. Public reaction against these private armies led the Pennsylvania legislature to create a Department of State Police as an ostensibly more neutral and highly-trained law enforcement body. But in the 1910 strike at Bethlehem Steel, the state police proved to be as pro-management as the Coal and Iron Police, and even more brutal. George F. Lumb, deputy superintendent of the newly minted State Police, appeared before the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations in 1915 to defend the force’s reputation against accusations that they tended to side automatically with management in labor disputes.

Testimony of Mr. George F. Lumb

Chairman WALSH: State your name, please.

Mr. LUMB: George F. Lumb.

Chairman WALSH: What is your business?

Mr. LUMB: I am the deputy superintendent of the department of State police of Pennsylvania. . . .

Chairman WALSH: How long have you been connected with the Pennsylvania State Constabulary?

Mr. LUMB: It is the State police. Since its organization—if you will permit me, I would like to make a correction as to the use of the word “constabulary.” That word has been used throughout the examination of the witnesses, but its proper name under the statues of the State of Pennsylvania is the “State Police.”. . . .

Chairman WALSH: Now, I would like you to make just one statement. You stated, going back to 1906, where waitresses and others refused to serve the men, and coming down to the situation where they had to go to the steel company’s property, how do you account for the prejudice or the lack of sympathy that seems to exist in these towns toward your force? What is the cause of that?

Mr. LUMB: Now, my answer to that, Mr. Chairman, would be more in the nature of a personal opinion than an official statement.

Chairman WALSH: Well, I thought perhaps you had inquired into it and discussed it?

Mr. LUMB: Yes; I will be glad to give you my opinion on the subject, but I would want to state before doing so that this department, in time of disorder, does not take any notice of the fact that a strike exists from that standpoint. It is with us purely a question of the man that throws the brick or fires the gun or burns the tipple; and we do not ask if he is a Republican or a Democrat or a union or nonunion man. It is a question of law or lawlessness on the public highways and the destruction of property.

Now, having cleared the air, so that you will not think this is an official expression of views of the department, I want to say this:

That my knowledge of the old English guilds and various earlier labor unions is that they were for the purpose of protecting the men and raising a boycott, if necessary. They did not at that time seem to recognize the powerful importance of violence toward others who wanted to work. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the populations were not as dense at that time. Now, it has been held in Pennsylvania that if a man wants to go on a strike he has a perfect right to do so; but that he must not obstruct the highways to prevent other men who wish to work from going on to their work. The Supreme Court, in 1860 or 1861, held that there were no innocent bystanders in time of riot; that it was the duty of every law-abiding citizen, as soon as he hears or learns that there is any disorder on the public thoroughfare, to retire to his home. Those facts being true, and it also being true that the labor unions deny any responsibility for violence—they ordinarily, I believe, claim that most of the violence comes from the class of men who just enjoy such excitement, and that it is not officially recognized by the union as a proper thing. I think they are all agreed now that that is the attitude they generally take—that it is not done by one of “our men”; “he is a fellow that came here from Baltimore.” They dynamited street cars in Chester, and cars were blown up, and the unions denied any responsibility for it, and perhaps justly so. I have personal knowledge of the fact that men did come there from Baltimore, and even Philadelphia, and some of them even wearing their conductors' caps, and performed these very acts. If this is true, I can not understand why the labor union, as such, should object to the presence of men who are sent there by the proper authority of the Commonwealth to enforce law and order. But I am greatly afraid, particularly from what I have heard from Mr. Maurer and Mr. Pierce and Mr. Williams, that there is creeping into our labor unions a sort of spirit abroad of anarchy, and I don’t believe they voiced the sentiments of labor unions at large. I don’t believe they voice the general opinion; and their zeal against our institution is so far-reaching as to be sanctioned by the opinion of the majority of the labor unions of Pennsylvania. That is about as well as I can express it from my personal standpoint.

Chairman WALSH: Then you think this lack of sympathy which you discovered is through the influence of those persons which you have mentioned?

Mr. LUMB: Well, I think—no—every member of the commission must know that there has recently been injected into our country some people from Europe—some people who call themselves Industrial Workers of the World. About three or four years ago there was a strike on the B. & S. Railway, up in Potter County—the Buffalo & Susquehanna. And their attorney, Mr. Robinson, came down to Harrisburg and said, “Capt. Lumb, we have got to have some men.” He said, “The sheriff up there, because of the scarcity of the population, except those who are on the strike, is such that he can not get enough deputies to protect us. And the men are putting sand in the journal boxes of the engines and putting soap in the boilers, and are doing everything possible to destroy the property and imperil life and our rolling stock, and the State must send some State police up there.” I said, “Mr. Robinson (or Roberts, whichever it was) it is impossible to send men under those conditions.” "Why?“ he says, ”the Industrial Workers of the World are up there, and they are preaching treason and anarchy, and there is a reign of terror among us people, and we don’t dare to go out after dark.“ I said, ”that is a bad state of affairs in Pennsylvania, but you have got to go to your sheriff, and your sheriff can go to the governor or the superintendent of Pennsylvania and certify in writing that the situation is beyond his control before our men can go on the scene."

He stated that the sheriff was a high-strung man who had so much pride in his office that he would not concede that the situation was beyond his control, and that the only question was not being able to get enough men to serve as deputies. Now, as a matter of fact, we did not send any men up there, because the request came from the corporation and not from the proper authorities.

That, I think, is the menace to the labor unions themselves that this wrongful spirit is creeping in and undermining their proper attitude of mind toward law and order. But understand, Mr. Chairman, this is purely a personal opinion, based on purely personal observation.

The department of the State police keep no data of labor unions. We have no information about their workings. We never try to attend their meetings. We do not recognize in our official capacity that there is such a thing as a labor union. When we go into a place at the request of a sheriff we are under his directions. He says at this particular point there was bloodshed last night, or at this place they are going to dynamite property, or here is a mob; and under his directions alone we go in and under his directions alone we go out, and the sheriff is the high peace officer of the county in Pennsylvania.

Commissioner LENNON: Is it not a fact that nearly all the criticism against the State police originates from their work in strikes, labor troubles? I have not heard a bit of criticism of your course in all of the other duties you perform for anything else.

Mr. LUMB: Yes, sir; that is quite true; and perhaps I can throw a little light on that situation by this statement: Before the organization of the State police force the National Guards were under the fire that we are under now, and if you abolish the State police force you will see the attention of these same people directed toward the National Guards again.

Commissioner LENNON: I am not a citizen of the State of Pennsylvania and will not take any part in an attempt to abolish the force. Is it not possible that if the men in charge of the police force, when they go to a strike zone, will start giving the same attention to the representatives of the strikers as to the representatives of the employing company—certainly if that is done at all, in so far as conferring with them as to the necessary means of maintaining peace and good order, and not be on the property of one less you divide your men and put half on the property of the other—would not merely the doing of those things be self-evident and beyond question that the police have no favoritism of any kind, shape, or description to either side in a labor controversy; wouldn’t that eliminate a good deal of this?

Mr. LUMB: I would like to say in answer to your question, in the first place when the State police go into a community under those conditions they go in under the direct orders of the sheriff, and you heard the report of Capt. Thomas, which was brought down here as a specimen, and there are hundreds of others on file along with it. In that particular instance Capt. Adams reports that he had a conference with a committee of the strikers, and they came to an agreement as to that bridge, and they were to have 20 pickets. A good deal depends upon the situation where the strike exists. For instance, if there is a strike in a soft-coal region, and if you will examine the census report of 1910 as to the per cent of foreign population of Pennsylvania, particularly with references to that region, you will find that perhaps two-thirds of the men on strike are actually foreign-born men, either Italians or from south Europe. The minute our men arrive on the scene in their uniforms they are hissed at and jeered at and usually meet with a shower of stones. To reason with them is an absolute impossibility. With reference to distributing our men, as to the assignment of property, some going on the company’s property -

Commissioner LENNON: I don’t think they should go on either one.

Mr. LUMB: I will try to cover that in my limited way. The men in arriving at a town go to every place providing for public accommodation in hotels and livery stables; and they find that they have been preceded by organizers, who have notified those men that if they gave the State officers their accommodations they would be boycotted forevermore and they might as well go out of business, and the condition depends upon their attitude when we arrive. We would be glad to put up in places where the accommodation is better than on barn floors, and make them eat off of tin plates and drink out of tin cups. These men are men that first had to satisfy the Army recruiting officer that they were citizens of the United States and of good moral character. I speak from 12 years' experience in the Regular Army in peace and in war.

There are two classes of men—the Army makes or breaks a man. The man that is broke is what they call “bobtailed” or discharged without honor; and if the temptations of the new life are too great and he becomes in the habit of getting intoxicated, etc., and disgraces his uniform, after five or six summary offenses he is discharged without honor and can not be re-enlisted. The other class are made. They learn self-restraint and self-control and patriotism and learn love of country in the post schools, one of which I had the honor to teach in Fort McHenry, Md. The American soldier of to-day, gentlemen, is no thug; he is a pretty well-trained young man, with a good head, or he won’t get through with his enlistment. If he don’t come up to the grammar-school education the troop commander finds it out and details him to attend school, which is during the summer months. They may, after they first establish the fact that they are men of employment and moral character, make application to attend that school. Look at the saving in economy to take such men in preference to citizens that we have to look up through various private sources, and then have to depend upon limited observation. A man comes in with an excellent discharge as a sergeant of the Fifteenth Cavalry, and that means that he is not only learned to command himself, but others, and that he is an American citizen above all, and knows the laws to a certain extent, and knows the Constitution of the United States. He is detailed for four months of special duty as policeman. He is taught the fish, game, and forestry laws, and we have had cases where they have deceived us; that the man didn’t seem to take any particular interest in the study; that he thought it was going to be an easy life, and he didn’t want to study any more like he had had to in the Army, so he dropped at the end of his probation period; and on the other hand, if they satisfy us of their good moral conduct they remain on the force.

Commissioner GARRETSON: Is there not one qualification that you have not mentioned that is of greater importance for your purpose than anything; that the man who served as a regular soldier learned one further lesson, and that was when he received a command to fire he would obey, regardless of who stood in front, which is one of the things that the citizen soldier has not learned?

Mr. LUMB: That is true, and it is true also that the soldier has learned to shoot accurately and not to shoot the innocent man.

Source: Testimony, May 6, 1915. U.S. Congress, Senate, Final Report and Testimony Submitted to Congress by the Commission on Industrial Relations, 64th Cong., 1st sess., S. Doc. 415, vol. 11 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916), 10932ff.

See Also:The People Versus the Private Army