POD Editorial Divergence: The Great Uprising of 1877

ST. LOUIS, USA: July 1877: After Tom Scott of the B&O is turned down by President Hayes for federal troops to put down a railroad strike, a 'Worker's Provisional Government' is proclaimed by the Workingmen's Party in St. Louis on July 31. Rioting reaches new heights in San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and many other cities in the USA, and civil collapse begins.

Poster memorializing the Great Uprising
The flag is based on an event that happened in St. Louis during the uprising. In one of the many marches that happened, a newspaper reported that their only banner "was a loaf of bread stuck on a stick" - and that their slogan was "Bread or Blood." I assumed in this ATL, that both would get picked up as icons of the Revolution - and naturally, they had to be on a red flag...

The foreground text is from the "The Industrial Workers of the World" site

This was an interesting idea and it seemed doable at first. A populace just out of a civil war, in the fourth year of a brutal depression, many of those who had jobs were working at less than starvation wages, with years of corrupt government behind them, capped by the widespread belief that the presidency had been "stolen" for Hayes. Throw in an army reduced to peace-time levels (an army that hadn't been paid in a while at that) and an Indian war going on on the plains, and it seems like you've got all the ingredients for a revolution.

But the more I got into it, the more unlikely it seemed.

The first major problem was getting Hayes to not call in Federal troops. I just can't see any reason why he wouldn't - he'd called in troops to break up a strike when he was a governor just the year before, he owed his election in a lot of ways to the railroad companies that were calling on him to send in the army, and even if he was feeling fractious, most of his cabinet was connected in someway to big business in general and the railroads in particular.

Let's not discuss how many state and city level politicos they owned.

Best you could hope for would be a couple of day delay in the army getting out there, unless you, say, killed Hayes at exactly the critical moment. Then you might get a week or two of delay while everything sorted itself out back in Washington. Maybe.

And, in all honesty, I don't think the army's absence would make things escalate. If anything, you'd be likely to have fewer violent events (at least, initially).

The second major problem is that the strikers were in no way organized enough to start declaring "provisional governments." Even in St. Louis, arguably with the best organized strikers, you had dozens of small unions (all pretty weak), odd political factions, and just plain hanger-oners mixing together more by luck than anything else to form the general strike. As an example: The St. Louis Executive Committee, the nominal head of all the strikers in St. Louis, declared that they were striking in order to win an eight-hour workday and an end to child labor - something that probably came as a big surprise to the railroad strikers across the river in East St. Louis, who struck in the first place to get the wage cuts that had been afflicted on them rescinded. That kind of "organization" would quickly fall apart if any section of it started declaring provisional governments.

The strikers, in fact, were a wildly unorganized collection of thousands of different groups and tens of thousands of different individuals with only the thought "something must be done!" to unify them. And while revolutions have happened by accident or as the results of a very small number working within a larger group (who thought they were doing something else), it just doesn't seem that this was the way it could have gone. While the newspapers hyped the dangers of "revolution" and "communists" to the skies, most of the strikers seemed way too, well, laid-back for government toppling. They were striking for very specific economic ends, trying to force the railroads (and others) to accede to these demands or, failing that, get the government to force them to do so. Heck, they even went to great pains on some lines to make sure the mail got through, even though the companies themselves had stopped it.

And while the strikers were a good size segment of the lower and middle-class at the time, they were definitely a minority. And the majority seemed more than willing to join "Committees of Public Safety" or militias or what not to put the strikers down, army or no. Too many memories of the recent Civil War were around for most to even risk the possibility of another "insurrection."

So, I really don't think it could be done - but if it did happen, by some miracle of multiple POD's, what would be the results?

First of all, the "Provisional Government of St. Louis" would probably spawn other attempts - at varying levels of success - in other cities (though I'll bet no cities in California. Strikers in San Francisco seemed to only think that this was a great opportunity to beat up the Chinese, who cares about wage cuts...). Neither it nor its copies will last out the year, though. There's just too many people against any sort of rebellion (Civil War memories again) and the Fed's are (as seen) more than willing to use the army to break things up. The strikes - and the "governments" - will end a lot more brutally than they did OTL, but end they will.

There'll be a large loss of life and property, possibly lengthening the depression by a few years (and giving the plains Indians a few more years of freedom as troops are sucked away from the west), but the major affect of all this will be on future events. Unions, not in all that good a position anyway on OTL, will here be basically outlawed in the aftermath. Anything that even smells of workers organizing is going to be anathema not only to the big companies (which will actually be pretty much as they are OTL in regards to Unions), but to the public at large. Think the 1950's and communists here.

Obviously, the position of the worker on this ATL is going to be much worse than on OTL. What organizing there is will be deeply underground and secret and, unlike OTL, more inclined to want to muck around with politics (since it's now government laws as much as anything else holding them down). By the 1890's, early 1900's, the U.S. is a powder-keg. Comes WWI, assuming it holds together that long, and the resentment of being sent off to fight foreign wars brings things to a boil.

And the U.S. joins Russia in communist revolution...