The Saginaw Valley Lumber Strike took place on July 6th, 1885; but tensions had been rising well before this date. The Saginaw Valley Lumber strike occurred when many workingmen heard, “…the Legislature had recently passed a law making 10 hours a legal day’s work” (Grimm 102). This law was set to be implemented on September 19th, 1885; however the men were under the assumption that the law was to go into effect immediately, as they continued to work 11+ hour work days.
Laborers were clearly over-worked in the 19th century. As Grimm points out, “Before the strike, men had worked about 11 hours a day, six days a week, for an average $1.70 a day” (Grimm 102). The laborers were fighting for one hour less of work each day. To me it seems that even 10 hour work days for these men was too much; working in a sawmill is very physically and mentally taxing work.
As far as the balance of power between laborers and employers, clearly the power was not balanced at all. In the 19th century employers had all of the power and the laborers had very little if not any. This strike proved this as the laborers were on strike for nearly two months and did not make any headway. The employers had the government on their side as, “Gov. Alger sent in the state militia and businesses hired 150 Pinkerton guards” (Grimm 102). Although I would have liked to see the 10 hour work day law go into effect immediately and I do agree that 11+ hour work days were too much, the government did announce the law to go into effect on September 19th so I feel like the strike was a waste of time.
Ultimately, the employers and the government held their ground throughout the strike and did not grant laborers 10 hour work days until the selected date of September 19th. Laborers continued to strike until this day. Grimm said, “The strike, led by the Knights of Labor, ended when the 10-hour law took effect in September” (Grimm 102).
Grimm, Joe. Michigan Voices: Our State’s History in the Words of the People Who Lived It. Detroit Free Press, 1987.