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Who Were the Pinkertons? (slate.com)
45 points by smacktoward 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments



Couple things. Pinkerton's president Jack Zahran says what next, a game where Coke poisons people- well in fact, Coca-Cola has a pretty awful past and present of hiring "the pinkertons" of south america to murder and "disappear" labor organizers. That's something Coke lives with.

The pinkertons do have an awful history and its something they have to live with- they also have a pretty awful present, if you've ever worked with their international physical site auditors. I have and they were hired by an employer for my direction, and were awful. I put aside the historical context I knew of the company because in fact I was hiring a totally different company in the 2010's.. and reached the same conclusion. Thuggish, awful translation, basically came off as a hired gun, when they were supposed to be craftspeople of gentle mutually agreed site security audits.


> Couple things. Pinkerton's president Jack Zahran says what next, a game where Coke poisons people- well in fact, Coca-Cola has a pretty awful past and present of hiring "the pinkertons" of south america to murder and "disappear" labor organizers. That's something Coke lives with.

It's an awkward analogy because, whether you believe in caloric or sugar theories of the obesity epidemic, Coca-Cola is not a good guy either way. Quite a few people would say that yes, "Coca-Cola poisons mankind"...


> Quite a few people would say that yes, "Coca-Cola poisons mankind"

If you can use it to clean the contacts and corrosion buildup on car battery terminals... My dad used to do that.


Coca-cola has a pH of 3.4 and in conjunction with carbon dioxide is good at dissolving metal oxides. And since one of the components is carbonic acids, it also works against lime. But then you still have to deal with the syrup residue.

Fortunately, humans aren't made of metal so when you pour it into a stomach that's somewhere between 1.5 - 3.5 pH, not much happens. Except that suspended carbon dioxide is released and has to go somewhere.


> Except that suspended carbon dioxide is released and has to go somewhere.

That's an awkward way of saying that people belching is contributing to global warming!


No because the CO2 came out of the atmosphere!

Coke is carbon negative!!


Anyone who has studied even a smidgeon of US labor history knows the Pinkertons as hired thugs who intimidated and sometimes killed workers. They should be portrayed as villains.


The Pinkerton National Detective Agency is pretty much gone. Some guard services survive as part of Securitias. But at one time they were a big deal. Not so much in the West, but in major American cities. Willie Sutton, the bank robber, wrote of the Pinkertons "they were as powerful as the cops, and much better organized".

That was their real power. They had national reach, good communications, and record keeping. Until the FBI got their act together in the 1940s, nobody else in the US did. Law enforcement was very local. Only a Pinkerton could order "so and is on a train to Chicago. Have him followed when he leaves the station."

By the 1960s, they were no longer really necessary, and mostly became a rent-a-cop service.


They may have less power today, but they do still exist, and do still do the same kind of work. I knew a union infiltrator in the transportation industry through a friend just a few years back.


The Pinkertons have been corporate mercenaries for the railroad corporations in western genre novels, since I was old enough to read. The only new thing here is it's a top-selling video game instead of a dime novel.


And for Henry Ford, too, dealing with labor strikes.


One of the reasons Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled fiction is so good is that he actually worked for the Pinkertons as an operative before getting into writing.


I find this interesting also because there's a few security agencies which reuse the Pinkertons name. For example I see these cars all the time: https://www.psecurity.com.au/

It looks like there are people who do remember them and the history.


They should be "proud" for their history. Their reaction was completely exaggerated.


It remainds me a bit of similar discussions about GTA San Andreas, where there is a line "kill the haitians" which created offense. Or "the hot coffe patch" - which unlocked soft porn in the game. Oh my god!

A game where your mission is to kill for fun, fame and money ... and the problem is not the main concept, but NO SEXUAL CONTENT. And NO RACISM. (even though it was not racism. the haitians were just one of the other gangs you fought)

And here again, a game which is about murder in the first place (did not played it though) ... and someone (with an awful history) thinks he is missrepresented in a game that glorifies crime.

Something is very weird here.


>“However, what I would argue, on balance, in a free-market environment where ultimately clients decide whether you live or die, you don’t survive for 167 years if you don’t operate with a high ethical standard.”

What is this quote supposed to mean?

"you" refers to the Pinkertons obviously, but are they insinuating that clients without muscle would kill the muscle? or just stop using the company if they behave too ethical? he's justifying unethical behaviour ... by calling it highly ethical in a free market environment?!


It means the Pinkertons make absolutely no apology for being hired thugs who use violence to suppress workers' rights, and are trying to reframe the issue to some frame in which workers don't have those rights in the first place.


"Live or die" as in whether the company survives. They're not talking about clients literally killing them. They're saying the company has survived all these years in the free-market environment because of their high ethical standards.


that's also how I read it, but that doesn't mean it makes sense: if they had in that time and place set a high ethical standard of not participating in strikebreaking, they might indeed not have survived as a company, so their survival was the result of their lower ethical standards...


Maybe they're libertarians so they think strikes are unethical.


Wouldn't libertarians support your right to strike?


Depends. Libertarians believe in free individuals making contracts. So unless the right to strike is somewhere included (here in germany it is through laws on a higher level) they would not, as strike is a breach of contract otherwise.


Why would the right to strike have to be in the contract? The contract just doesn't have to ban strikes, surely?

Libertarians default to liberty, unless opted out of, that's my understanding at least.


You make a contract which says you work for money.

If you strike, you do not work - you therefore break contract.

"libertarians default to liberty"

True. The liberty of individual. For example to make contracts - or to brake them. But the idea is, that society can only work if people do not break their contracts. Otherwise whats the point in them?


Surely then it depends upon the reason for the strike?

If the strike is over layoffs, wage cuts, unsafe work practices. They're all potential contract breaches.


"Surely then it depends upon the reason for the strike?"

For sure. If the other side breachs contract then, then strike is a very good way to fight that. Like work safe issues.

But layoffs for example ... are not really a breach of contract. (unless of course their contract was fir a longer time)


So we are back to the beginning again.

Libertarians aren't ideologically against strikes.


Well, if you define things like that, than I have to ask who do you mean by libertarians? There are many different branches.

I was refering to the free market libertarians and with strike I meant the ordinary one, like the one in question. Workers strike to get a better deal. Better money mostly and or less hours. And this is a breach of contract, which the free market libertarians I know, would be against.

The leftwing anarchist libertarians I know on the other hand would be all for strike and workers seizing the factory for themself.


I'm not sure there was a particular strike in question?!

You're right there are many varieties of libertarian. My understanding is that they are at least united in their small government ethos. With that in mind they would be against the levers of the state that could protect workers rights, and so be more likely to support systems that put those levers in the hands of individuals.

Also lets look at the US, they have fairly weak employment rights, you can be sacked without reason (as I understand it). Going on strike in that situation is functionally equivalent to handing in your notice and demanding that your employer reemploys you under a new contract. You are hoping that your value to your employer is still greater than the costs, if not he can just sack you and re employ someone else.

In that situation there isn't a breach of contract. I suppose you could argue semantically that that isn't a strike, but strikes (should) operate within the laws in force at the time, so I don't have a problem with the method of labour withdrawal changing to stay within these constraints.


It means the article was the end result of a chain of actions that started with the hiring of a PR firm....


Don’t the Pinkerton agents always get killed in movies?

I think I saw two of them in one of Indiana Jones.


> What’s next? A game where Coca-Cola poisons mankind?

He’d be surprised.


Spoiler warning! They go into RDR2 plot details for anyone who’s currently playing it.


eh .. not a lot. They touch on when the Pinkertons are first introduced and they also talk about one showdown scene between the main characters and the Pinkertons. I'd say two to three mild spoilers, but nothing that really surprises you in the game (it's a great game, highly recommended).

Until this article, I had no idea the Pinkertons were a real outfit, or that they're still around! In the game, your character(s) are bandits, and portrayed that way from the very first hour of game play. The Pinkertons may seem aggressive, but the players characters are never portrayed as malevolent. It is a western after all. Client Eastwood might have done some nice and honorable things as The Man with No Name, but he was hardly a hero.

This would be different if it were a household name like Sears or General Electric or IBM; very old 100+ year companies. I wouldn't be surprised of some lawyers at Rockstar were like, "Fuck...they still exist? Really?" The article shows how they were in other fiction (Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood) and I honestly do not remember them being mentioned at all. They're not even that big in RedDead2 really; just one of the many many people who want to kill the protagonists.

Maybe they're just suing so people still remember they exist. No publicity is bad publicity right? Besides if they didn't defend their historic trademark in other fiction, they've got no case here. Without constant trademark defense, a trademark can turn into a common name or generic idea. Bikini is one example (once a trademark), although there are counter examples (Band-aid is still trademarked even though it's commonly used as generic, where the correct non-brand term is Bandage or adhesive bandage .. or plaster if you're an Aussie).


Pinkertons are practically a mainstay of the western genre. One example I've seen recently is the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma in which they play a fairly important role.

IMDB has a list that's far from comprehensive: https://www.imdb.com/search/keyword?keywords=pinkertons


Also a relatively major sub-plot in Deadwood.


I’ve long known all about the Pinkertons (came from a union working-class family).

But even partway into your first paragraph is a spoiler of the plot for me. It’s not the stuff about Pinkertons Its the storylines they’re giving away.

But I guess I digress.




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