The strike of 1885 tells us that our industrial relations were rough and the workers were done with their crap. The men were strong, brave, hard working and motivated to get the job done. They were workers and wanted to be treated as such. They were not slaves to work all day and sometimes receive no pay or be payed by credit if they were lucky.
Strikes were happening more often with Mills one starting in the 1870’s. Workers were becoming tired of the danger and rough working conditions. In 1870 a strike of 1200 men occurred. Deputy Sheriff Perrott’s and six of his men were ready to put a stop to it. All was going somewhat ok till one mill worker decided to hit one of Perrott’s men with a piece of wood and that was the last straw for Perrott. He raised his gun to the sky and hollered out a warning “If you make any further resistance, I will blow your head off”. With a shot to the sky the mill hands dispersed only 35 of them were arrested. That was all for that strike, It was over and the mill bosses felt victorious and thought all was good. Going back to where they had poor conditions and long hours. The norm was an 11-14 hour day six days a week. When spring would come and lumber prices would drop so would the workers pay sometimes drop 25% in pay. Some of the workers weren’t even getting paid with cash but with credits.
The conditions were rough the work was dangerous. The owners knew this and would hire lawyers to draw up contacts for the mill hand to sign. The mill owners were so conniving in the way they had them drawn up that the mill hand was always getting the raw end of the deal. In such way that if the mill hand was injured on the job it wasn’t the companies fault it was that employees fault. The mill hand wanted to be treated fairly, they wanted 10 hour work days.
1885 is the year the worker took back the upper hand. Busting their butts for 10 hour days couldn’t come quick enough for these hard working men. Finally they started spewing out threats of “Ten hours or No Sawdust”, but the mill owners didn’t think they were serious. Finally about 6 or 7 men couldn’t take the crap anymore and started to rally up supports from other mills to help fight the good fight for 10 hr. work days. At first it was 100 then it turned to 400 and grew by the day. They were ready for the change to happen and weren’t stopping till it did.
Daniel Blinn was a newspaper editor and one of the earlier members who agreed that it was time for a change and saw that the only way it was going to happen is if the whole town stood behind the mill people. Other companies such as Bay City Pipe works had joined in on the rally to stand behind there people. The news had started to spread over to Two Saginaw and Thomas Barry who invited 500 men to travel over to the Two Saginaw and aid in the sister strike.
Finally the mill owners were ready to listen to the mill hands demands. Blinn one of the leaders asked for 10 hour workdays without loss of pay, biweekly checks, and that all workers who went on strike receive their job back. They weren’t asking for the moon they wanted civil rights and the mill owners denied their entire request. Seeing that the mill owners were trying to regain the power they had lost the mill hands still held out for what they thought was right and in doing this they were aided by local shopkeepers and some local politicians.
Some men feared that their jobs would be lost for good to other mills that were running up stream and others were promised what they were fighting for. 10 hour workdays, but the contract had to be signed and there were loop holes through out it saying that they would work long hours no matter what.
Peace didn’t last long in Bay City nearing the end of summer the workers tried one last attempt to rally and tried to fight one last time for what they felt was right. Unfortunately they failed they did not receive 10 hour workdays nor bi weekly paychecks. They did get there jobs back and but the owners did come out benefiting form this ruckus that came with the strike by helping to balance out their books. The workers may have lost to the owners but they showed the world that you don’t have to put up with horrible conditions you can help to change your and everyone’s work scenario by challenging those higher up.