Cover image for From blackjacks to briefcases : a history of commercialized strikebreaking and unionbusting in the United States
From blackjacks to briefcases : a history of commercialized strikebreaking and unionbusting in the United States
Smith, Robert Michael, 1955-
Publication Information:
Athens : Ohio University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xviii, 179 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD5324 .S64 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



From the beginning of the Industrial Age and continuing into the twenty-first century, companies faced with militant workers and organizers have often turned to agencies that specialized in ending strikes and breaking unions. Although their secretive nature has made it difficult to fully explore the history of this industry, From Blackjacks to Briefcases does just that.

By digging through subpoenaed documents of strike-bound companies, their mercenaries, and the testimony of executive officers and rank-and-file strikebreakers, Robert Smith examines the inner workings of the antiunion industry. In a clear and lively style, he brings to life the violent armed guards employed on the picket line or in the coal camps; the ruffians who filled the armies marshaled by the "King of the Strikebreakers," Pearl Bergoff; the labor spies who wrecked countless unions; and, after the Wagner Act, those who manipulated national labor law to serve their clients.

In From Blackjacks to Briefcases , Smith follows the history of this ongoing struggle and tells a compelling story that parallels the history of the United States over the last century and a half.

Author Notes

Robert Michael Smith is a professor of history at Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Union membership in the US declined by nearly one-third during the 1980s. Many labor experts attribute the decline to vigorous antiunion activity by employers. This study shows that union opposition has been a core strategy of US corporations for over a century. Smith (Sinclair Community College) focuses on commercial strikebreaking organizations that assist companies engaged in labor disputes. Using a historical approach, the author traces union busting from the late 1800s to the present. He begins with a description of the early security firms such as Pinkerton and Baldwin-Felts, which supplied armed forces to employers and participated in such important strikes as Homestead, Ludlow, and Matewan. During the first decades of the 20th century, new competitors joined in the business of disrupting strikes by hiring and protecting strikebreakers willing to cross picket lines. Another successful tactic featured industrial espionage; those activities were so notorious that Senator Robert La Follette undertook an investigation of violations of workers' rights. After the Wagner Act, the antiunion consultants adopted more subtle but equally effective tactics to aid employers in defeating organizing attempts. Altogether, Smith presents a readable and well-documented case for the ongoing offensive against labor. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Public, academic, lower-division undergraduate and up, and professional library collections. R. L. Hogler Colorado State University

Table of Contents

Scott Molloy
List of Illustrationsp. ix
Forewordp. xi
Introductionp. xiii
1 The Business Community's Mercenaries: The Era of Privately Paid Policep. 3
2 Armies of Strikebreakers for Hirep. 39
3 Spies, Propagandists, Missionaries, and Hookers: The Era of Industrial Espionagep. 75
4 The Unionbusting Industry since the Wagner Actp. 97
Epiloguep. 119
Notesp. 131
Bibliographyp. 157
Indexp. 173