The vexatious wave of de facto strikes by absentee Wisconsin public school teachers and Illinois-bound state legislators that has greeted newly-elected Badger State Governor Scott Walker’s vigorous attempts to rein in unsustainable public spending inevitably summons to mind the case of a once-obscure, first-term Massachusetts governor and a more overt public employee strike of nine decades ago.....The governor in question: the famously taciturn Silent Cal Coolidge....The work stoppage in question: The Boston Police Strike of 1919.

Chronically underpaid, Boston police officers had organized into a union. They possessed, it must be said, their grievances. Their minimum pay was just $1,100—even for the times, pitifully small. They worked 12-hour shifts, had to supply and maintain their own uniforms, and even buy their own bullets. Stations houses were deplorable—overcrowded, dirty, vermin-infested.

Coolidge himself publicly admitted that “I do not approve of any strike. But can you blame the police for feeling as they do when they get less than a street car conductor?” In September 1919, Boston Police Commissioner Edwin U. Curtis disciplined union leaders, and police voted 1,134-to-2 to strike; 1,177 of the city’s 1,544 police walked off the job, leaving the city unprotected.

Violence and lawlessness followed. Store windows were smashed, and their contents looted. Hooligans stoned city streetcars. Staid Boston Common witnessed open gambling.