Reforming Repression: Labor, Anarchy, and Reform in the Shaping of the Chicago Police Department, 1879-1888

Source: Sam Mitrani, Labor, Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 2009
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From the abstract:
In the article “Reforming Repression: Labor, Anarchy, and Reform in the Shaping of the Chicago Police Department, 1879-1888,” Sam Mitrani examines the dramatic strengthening of the Chicago Police Department in the 1880s. Beginning in 1879, Mayor Carter Harrison pulled the department back from its least popular activities, such as enforcing temperance regulations and breaking strikes, to increase the legitimacy of the force. This was part of Harrison’s policy of class collaboration aimed at calming the tension in the city after the strike and riot of 1877. His administration also hired hundreds of new officers and funded an extensive police telegraph system. Meanwhile, the city’s workers were organizing in new unions, anarchist organizations were growing, and the city’s business leaders were preparing for new clashes by organizing themselves in a citizens’ association and an organization known as the Commercial Club. When a new strike wave began in 1885 and his class collaborationist policies ceased to ensure civic peace, Harrison deployed the newly strengthened force against strikers and their anarchist allies, with telling effect. After the Haymarket bombing and the repression of the anarchists in 1886, the police department further consolidated and reinforced itself with increased support from the city’s business leaders and their organizations. The article concludes that the Chicago Police Department was largely built in this era in reaction to the labor movement. The department’s main task was to contain that movement and protect “order” as defined by businessmen.

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