Thin Blue Line of Police Unions with Aaron Bekemeyer

Professor Aaron Bekemeyer discusses the complicated history of police unionization. How police balanced their role as union busters and political enforcers with their desire for higher wages and retirement/pensions led to contradictions in messaging. After both World Wars, American society changed in various ways and policing took on new meanings, in response to reformist challenges to political machine corruption and later the growth of civil rights movements, labor organizers like John Harrington became bullhorns for police rights. What and how those rights were messaged depended on the tension between cops on the street and Mayors and Police Commissioners. Appeals to “law and order” existed alongside the push for better labor contracts, which led to today’s reality where police unions stand as some of the strongest labor unions in the US.

Aaron Thomas Bekemeyer, Lecturer on History, Harvard University on his work in progress, “The Labor of Law and Order: How Police Unions Transformed Policing and Politics in the United States, 1939-1985,”. June 15, 2023.