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Debt debate: the myth of the good old days before big government

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Twenty years later, amid the next great downturn, 15,000 unemployed protesters gathered in Manhattan’s Tompkins Square Park, marched to Wall Street, and shouted, “We want work” as they paraded around the Stock Exchange. A mob would later occupy City Hall, until US marines forced them out.

But the greatest violence occurred on America’s industrial frontier. In Pittsburgh, for example, militiamen fired on crowds that had seized railroad switches during an 1877 strike. Twenty people were killed; in response, mobs burned over 100 locomotives and 2,000 railroad cars. Over the next quarter-century, the National Guard and the regular US Army were called out over 500 times to quell labor disputes.

Strike-related bloodshed continued into the 20th century, whenever the economy dipped. In 1934, at the heart of the Great Depression, 13 striking textile workers were killed. Meanwhile, a wave of “sit-down” strikes seized the automobile industry. Police tried to remove workers with tear-gas; the laborers fought back with firehoses.

Today, by some measures, the United States faces its greatest economic calamity since the 1930s. Between 14 million and 21 million Americans who want jobs don’t have them; and another 8 million or 9 million are working part-time because they can’t find full-time positions. You can see them at pawn shops and homeless shelters, on unemployment lines and in soup kitchens.

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