A reformer with a printing press

It was bitterly cold in New York City on January 13, 1874.  An icy wind penetrated the threadbare coats of the unemployed workers who massed in Tompkins Square Park that morning, while leaden skies darkly threatened afternoon snow.  The depression of 1873 had thrown thousands of northeastern laborers out of jobs, and in New York City, desperate and hungry workers had gathered in the Lower East Side park to press for public employment.  The rally on January 13 was organized by the Committee of Safety, an amorphous group that included socialists, trade unionists, and antimonopolist reformer…

The figuting began when the police tried to disperse the crowd, and it ended with what trade unionist Samuel Gompers called “an orgy of brutality,” as the police attacked the workers with billie clubs…

For any populist movement to be effective, it must be seen and heard.  Reformers count on the free press that is a thousand-year tradition in the English-speaking world.  But the ability of reformers to be heard has always hung by a thin thread, dependent as they are on printing presses that are owned, almost all, by capitalists.  In 1873,

[Only] one major New York newspaper did not join the near-universal condemnation of the protestors:  Charles A. Dana’s New York Post was both sympathetic to the unemployed workers and highly critical of the actions of the police.  Its four pages contained vivid accounts of the violence and of the confusion and panic of the mostly-peaceable demonstrators as they ran for cover from the horses of the mounted Squad: “Men tumbled over each other…into the gutters or clambered up high stoops to get out of the way of the chargers.  The horsemen beat the air with their batons and many persons were laid low.  There seemed to be a determination on the part of the mounted police to ride over somebody, and they showed no mercy.”

Charles Dana owned and managed The Sun at a time when slavery was being abolished and monopoly capitalism was first beginning to crush organized labor.  Dana’s was a reliable voice for decent working conditions.

Charles A Dana was born 200 years ago today.
Quotes are from The Sun Shines for All, by Janet E. Steele

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