I was taught as a child to never start fights and never get involved in a fight that didn't involve me, but to never, ever back down from a bully. Backing down from a bully will only bring you more fights in the long run, not fewer of them. A bully who sees a soft mark will always push for more and more. A bully confronted will either back down or fight, but in most cases will move on looking for another easy pushover.
In March of 1932, the hungry and the unemployed in the Detroit area organized a march to draw attention to their plight. Since 1929 the monthly caseload for the city's welfare department had swelled from 5,000 a month to 50,000 a month. The plan was to march to the gates of Henry Ford's River Rouge auto plant. Henry Ford at the time was the richest man in America and the Rouge plant was the largest manufacturing complex in the world.
The marchers made their way to Detroit's City Hall where the mayor, Frank Murphy, came outside on the steps and waved to the marchers and said in solidarity, "I'm with you all the way." Murphy ordered a police escort to the city limits. When the marchers reached the Dearborn city limits the story and tone changed. The road had been blocked with police cars and motorcycles, and officers on horseback pushed the crowd into a wedge. The police ordered the marchers to disperse and then fired tear gas into the crowd.
The marchers responded by throwing frozen mud and stones back at the police. The Dearborn fire department then turned high-pressure fire hoses on the crowds in sub-freezing temperatures. When that failed the police and Ford's private security thugs opened fire on the crowd with live ammunition killing four and wounding several dozen. Calls for food and work had been answered with ice water, tear gas and bullets.
There has never been a question as to who were the aggressors in the Dearborn massacre. Henry Ford was the richest man in America so when Ford tells the Dearborn police to stop them, the police stop them. We all answer to power on some level and power never backs up. Power only moves forward. Power services its own needs; it doesn't make moral concessions nor does it admire sincerity. The only thing that it admires is more power.
My grandfather was a union organizer in Ohio and while walking his turn on the picket line was confronted by a bullyboy. A bullyboy was a street tough, a thug type who was hired by the company to cross the picket line. The men on the picket line always knew when the bullyboys were coming because they showed up shortly after the police had arrived. This fellow tried to push his way past my grandfather and my grandfather pushed him back and was arrested for disorderly conduct. The bullyboy was put into another car but never made it to the police station to be charged.
In a fair system the bullyboy should have been charged with assault; instead my grandfather was charged with a crime. The power was behind the company. The union paid my grandfather's bail and he was back on the line the next day. Again the bullyboys came and again my grandfather was arrested and hauled before the same judge. The judge asked, "If I release you on bail will you promise no more trouble today?"
He answered, "Today? Sure!"
As he was released he turned to the judge and said, "See you tomorrow."
My grandfather was a large man at six foot four and stocky and easy to identify, so when the bullyboys came the third time they focused on him specifically. As he resisted their assault a policeman's billy club came down across his forehead opening a three-inch gash. In the melee some of the men on the line put him in a car fearing what might happen if he was arrested again. They took him home, bleeding and unconscious, and a neighbor lady sewed up his forehead with a needle and thread.
Towards evening as he lay on the couch my father called out from the porch, "Some cops are coming."
My grandfather met them at the door with a baseball bat in his hand.
The officers explained, "The plant owner wants to talk with you but was afraid that you would kill him if he came by himself."
My grandfather answered only, "He's a smart man."
The next day the plant owner arrived and my own father said it was the first new car he had ever seen up close. The deal was simple, if my grandfather would get the men to call off the strike the boss would make him the plant foreman with a large raise and answering only to him.