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Thugs for Hire: Ads for Security Guards

Around 1903, employers began to mount organized campaigns to break the power of labor unions, particularly in the metal trades. Employers had a broad array of weapons in their arsenal, including blacklists, strikebreakers, and court injunctions against strikers’ use of boycotts and sympathy strikes. In the first two decades of the 20th century, 775 injunctions were issued against labor activities. During the previous two decades, only 150 injunctions were issued. Although early twentieth-century employers had reliable allies in state police forces and tightly controlled local police, they continued to hire their own private police—detective agencies that used secret operatives to disrupt unions and supplied thugs to protect strikebreakers during strikes. This 1903 letter promoted the services of the Corporations’ Auxiliary Company of Cleveland, Ohio, to prospective clients.

"There is no question but that our system would be of great benefit to you, inasmuch as you employ the very class of men who are the cause of a great deal of annoyance and trouble to the employers, and who create all manner of disturbances in the running of a plant successfully. . . . We can either furnish you a union or a non-union machinist, or a union or a nonunion laborer or general utility man who can get into your factory and can work on the inside and be what we term the ‘inside’ man, and get and report all the information about what the men do and say in the plant, who are union men, who are the radical ones and the agitators in the shop, so that their work can be killed by dispensing with their services the minute you learn who they are; and which operatives can also become a member of the union, if necessary . . . and in this way furnish the client with all information and complete, detailed reports regarding the action and proceedings of the union. . . .

"We have another operative whom we term an ‘outside man,’ who would not work in the shop or plant of the client, if the shop is to be kept strictly non-union, but who would work at some other place and join the union and get all union information for the client and all information on the street of interest. This man would also work his way up into an official position in the union for the purpose of assisting in breaking it up. . . .

"Either one of these operatives we would furnish you at the rate of $150.00 per month and his railroad fare. . . , and out of the above sum of $150.00 are to be deducted all the wages which the operative earns while working in your interest."

Source: Letter reprinted in Harry W. Laidler, Boycotts and the Labor Struggle (New York: John Lane Company, 1913), 290–91.

See Also:One Strike Against Her: A Store Clerk Dares to Join the Union
Plugging the Leaks: A Specialist Spies on Union Activities
Pride and Joy: Specialists in Breaking Strikes