The latter half of the 19th century was a whole different time than we live in now. Workers were exploited by the very men who hired them with little or no concern for their wellbeing. At this point in time, there were no laws set in place to protect these workers from dangerous conditions and the twelve hours that were put in. After so long workers started to get fed up with the way that they were treated and the conditions that they worked in. So in 1870 they started striking to get attention brought to their plight, but to no avail.
Then, in 1885, a law was passed that limited the number of hours that workers had to work to 10, unless otherwise contracted. This was set to be enacted in September of that year. However, the workers wanted change immediately. So, starting July 6th, a shout from a Rouse worker of, “Hurrah for ten hours!” (Mobley, 24) went up that started a chain reaction amongst disgruntled workers and so began the strike. The strikers marched from mill to mill rallying other millhands to their cause. Some refused to join in although later in the week many did out of fear of being hurt by some of the strikers. The strike moved from Bay City to Saginaw and East Saginaw. As the days marched on they started to become violent.
Eventually a meeting was scheduled for July 12th. The proposal from the strikers was denied and so the strike continued. Governor Alger came into town and warned the strikers against “listening to leaders who are stirring up strife.” (Mobley, 26) The Saginaws caved first, but Bay City remained strong. Come September the striking came to a halt when they gave in to defeat. Nothing changed for the strikers. All they wanted to come out of the strike was for lower working hours and a regulated paycheck (Michigan Industry PP, 17).
Industrial relations were very poor between the workingman and those who ruled over them. The lumber barons were trying to make a quick buck and this meant working the men for long hours and then paying them in any form they please, not to mention any time that they decided to. And the lumber barons had the politicians on their side. The politicians did not want to upset the happiness of the lumber barons for fear of losing out on the money that they contributed to the economy. This tended to make the politicians rule in favor of the owners, as is witnessed by Governor Alger and his speech to the strikers.
The balance weighed heavily on the lumber barons side, leaving the working-class men struggling to make a living. Working through dirty and dangerous conditions, they looked forward to the hope that one day they would have better hours and pay. The lumber era didn’t last much longer after this, but it was just one instance where the working-class made a stand to fight for their rights.
Mobley, Victor J. “1885 Saginaw Valley Strike.” Michigan History (n.d.): 23-27.
Pond, Cornelius. “Strike for shorter days shuts Saginaw Mills.” Grimm, Joe. Michigan Voices. 1987. 102.
Michigan Industry Powerpoint