He plays a New York Irish cop on the TV show Blue Bloods, but anyone who knows actor/singer Donnie Wahlberg knows that his heart is in Boston. So it is fitting that the new cop show Wahlberg has produced is set in Beantown -- and spotlights several real-life Irish American cops.
The show, called Boston’s Finest, can be seen Wednesdays on the TNT cable channel, and even features music by Irish rockers the Dropkick Murphys.
Interestingly, this show hits the airwaves just as one of the most notorious incidents in Boston policing history -- the subject of an angry song by none other than the Dropkick Murphys -- is gaining new attention.
As for the stars of Boston’s Finest, there’s Sean Joyce, “a big friendly Irish guy,” according to show producers. Then there’s rookie Irish American Mike Burke, an ex-Marine “learning how to be a cop” who “can't wait for his younger brother – currently in the academy – to join him on the force.”
If Boston’s Finest sheds light on the travails of big city cops in the 21st century, a new book takes a disturbing new look at one of the Boston Police Department’s low points -- the notorious strike of 1918.
Once the Boston police went on strike, the streets of the city descended into anarchy. Even worse, the city elders -- quite a few of them elite Brahmins whose disdain for the Irish Catholics who dominated the force was well chronicled -- relied on volunteers from Harvard (of course) to help keep the peace.
The Boston police strike has gained new attention thanks to a new book from best-selling author Amity Shlaes. Her previous book, The Forgotten Man, was a revisionist look at the Great Depression. Part of that book involved resurrecting the generally poor historical reputation of President Calvin Coolidge.
Shlaes was so taken with Coolidge that her new book is a biography of the 30th president, who served from 1923 to 1928.
Well, guess what catapulted Coolidge to national prominence? He was governor of Massachusetts at the time of the infamous Boston police strike.
Shlaes applauds the hard line Coolidge took against the police. In an interview with National Review Online, Shales said, “At a time when the president, Woodrow Wilson, was waffling over militant union demands, Coolidge showed the strikers, and the nation, that he...would not be blackmailed by unions. Coolidge stated categorically, in a telegram to union leader Samuel Gompers, that ‘there is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anytime, anywhere.’
“Americans all sighed with relief when they heard or read this. Coolidge made sense and called a halt to the progressive madness.”
In case you missed the point that she has no use for organized labor, Shlaes adds, “One of the consequences of the brave governor’s decision was that there were fewer public-sector strikes in the decade that followed. Union membership also dropped in the 1920s.”
Well, that certainly is one way to look at it. Another way might be to point out that pay and working conditions for the heavily Irish Boston police force were absolutely horrendous.
It did not help that many of powerful movers and shakers in Boston were elite Protestants who never had any use for the Irish or their pushy unions.
Look, obviously a police force going on strike is a dangerous measure. But perhaps Coolidge should have helped address the cops’ low pay and poor working conditions. Rather than, you know, seize this as an opportunity to stop the “madness” of cops trying to make their jobs slightly less horrible.
For a much more interesting view of the Boston police strike, check out Dennis Lehane’s epic novel The Given Day. It may not be as angry as, say, the Dropkick Murphy’s song “We Got the Power.” (“A city in terror on the thin blue line/A thousand-plus walked off the job to support their brothers' cause/The anti-union prohibition clause/Demanded loyalty at any price.”)
But Lehane at least gives us a fuller portrait of the Boston Irish cops and their troubles back in 1919. The stars of the new Boston’s Finest TV show will be glad most of those troubles are gone.
Too bad we can’t say that same about governors who have convinced themselves that everything would be great if unions and their members just went away.