In many romanticized films depicting the early part of this century, one of the standard bad guys is the company goon, one of those guys hired by a company to bust up any union organizing. In films like “Bound For Glory” or “Matewan”, their main job seems to be cracking heads open.
My question is: How did you get a job like this? Did the company (like J.H. Blair in the song “Which Side are you On?”) just go out and round up a bunch of big unemployed guys, give them clubs and tell them to go at it? Or was there some sort of apprenticeship program?
According to my cousin Vinnie, most goons (or expeditors, as they prefer to be called) are freelancers. They tend not to be on the payroll, or on the books. Instead, they prefer to be paid in cash, in advance. Sometimes they’ll do this as a favor, either because they owe you one or they want you to owe them one. I DO suggest making sure that you understand the payment expected before you hire one, to avoid later unpleasantness.
They don’t advertise in the Yellow Pages, either, but ask around, they’re available.
One of my best friends, who is Italian with all of the stereotypical “connections”, says that in Philly the scenario described by Lynn is typical. He says the cases of which he knows are guys recruited from the local gym, but they have a reputation for being able to convince organizations, through less than legal means, to come around.
I am assuming because of the era (Bootlegging, Capone and company, etc.) this would hold true for early twentieth century as well. It’s all word of mouth, people you know, someone’s cousin, etc.
pkbites, the language changed. Goon meant a big, dumb oaf around 1920. In the mid-1930’s, goon came to be the specific term for a union-breaker (reinforced by the character Alice the Goon in the Thimble Theatre comic strip (whence Popeye) who went around being the strong arm for the Sea Hag). Since goons were ostensibly hired as “security” forces for the factory owners, the term was applied during WWII to various security agencies (from the FBI guys doing background checks on officer candidates to various persons’ bodyguards). Eventually the word stopped being the word for strike breaking security, although it has not lost that meaning, entirely.
(Thug came into the language through the Brits in India where a specific group of violence-prone thieves (Hindi thag) were called thugs. Thug can still mean a brutal thief, but in the States the emphasis is on the violence, not the theft.)
In the cases you refer to the “goons” probably felt they were doing the right thing by following the company line.
They were busting the heads of immigrant workers who were disrupting the U.S. economy by demanding socialist (later Communist) concessions: minimum wage, 8 hour day, safe working conditions.
They were keeping law and order by kicking some anti-American butt.
This attitude seems to have played pretty well until the Great Depression.
Paid enforcers are almost always the XXL-petty criminals, you really think a they’d quit their steady dayjob to bust some heads? They didn’t usually have a dayjob, this is simply contracting criminals.
Nowadays “security” types are people too dumb and criminal to become cops but really want to work with a gun or baton, and not the nice twirling kind.
It seems that only pretty dumb crooks would become the muscle. Think about it. Everytime they beat someone up, it’s assault and battery. Usually assault with a deadly weapon. That alone opens them up to a load of legal penalties, with their contractors leaving them on their asses once they become a known risk. If they decide to get rid of a few witnesses, it’s homicide. All of these crimes are federal offenses, meaning that running across state lines won’t help a bit. It also means that the FBI is on your ass, not some Podunk Central beat cop. When you think about it, nobody with half a brain becomes a goon. Just a little advice.
I think the OP was referring to an earlier time in this century.
While the image of the 300 Pinkerton detectives that confronted the Homestead Strikers on July 6, 1892 weren’t pristine, they still weren’t represented in the popular press of the day as complete thugs. This even though several men were killed or wounded and the state milita had to be called out.
The image of the company goon being a “bad guy” didn’t really get a good boost until Harry Bennett hired a real group of thugs to beat up and intimidate union organizers for the Ford Automotive plants. I think this is the image the OP was referring to. And it certainly was the image represented in motion pictures, press and popular songs of that period.
I don’t think any of the Pinkertons in the Homestead strike faced any criminal actions and I don’t think there were any criminal actions taken during the early part of the 20th century. I doubt anyone arrested anyone during the coal strikes of the 1930s, except for the striking miners.
I also don’t think anyone ever got convicted of any of the many crimes that were perpetrated against the IWW.
It was Joe Hill who got executed and Big Bill Haywood and Eugene Debs got put on trial.
We all regard Carnegie and Ford as “industrialists” and “philanthropists.”
Actually, these people take very few risks. Goons are seldom prosecuted. Its usually the Union folks who get sent to jail. Besides, they are very well paid for their “work”. Its a significant indicator of how bankrupt our society is that these people are allowed to practice their “trade” and that employers are allowed to hire them.
I was not aware that society should feel that a corporation should be forbidden to protect its assets. Today, as earlier, many of the “goons” were/are security personnel hired to protect property during a strike. There are simply not that many “goon” actions any more.
There have been egregious examples of simple brutality throughout. (The movie Matewanreduced the amount of actual brutality portrayed because the filmmaker feared that if he demonstrated the reality he’d be accused of exaggeration. The strikebreakers against the UAW at “the bridge” were not “defending” anything–and, as at Selma 30 years later–films of the action turned popular support away from the “authorities” and toward the oppressed.)
It is not simply a case that every security person is a goon. Nor does every strike result in violence against the strikers. Angry workers who feel disenfranchised and closed out of the loop are quite capable of destroying property and beating people.
There is no justification for the corporate actions at the Homestead strike, at Matewan, at “the bridge” or numerous other places. It is not fair, however, to characterize the labor disputes as all one-sided attacks on undefended workers.
From the nineteenth century until the mid-1930’s, the popular perception was often that the strikers were in the wrong (and our perception is that they were victims). The widows and orphans of the policement killed at the Haymarket riot might disagree with a blanket statement of support for union supporters. (The union supporters–such as my grandfather–always distanced themselves from the Haymarket incident by blaming the Anarchists, but it is simply not that cut-and-dried an issue.)
From the 1930’s through the early 1970’s, the popular impression was that the workers were the good guys (although, once they gained power, there was a remarkable amount of both corruption (Teemsters, UMW) and short-sightednesss (UAW, USW) that influenced the goals of the unions.
Since the 1970’s, the popular impression has been that the unions are too powerful (as if!) and that their day has passed.
Their day may have passed, but more because of the changes in the types of work available than anything else. The persistent efforts by the Rhenquist court to undermine the rules-of-play that govern union efforts has seriously weakened unions, of course. As the court destroys the abilities of the unions to organize, the organizers may, indeed, become more violent again and we may see more “goon” activity, as well.
It is hardly true that there are goons roaming the countryside with impunity, breaking the heads of anyone in a union.