The 1885 Saginaw Valley Strike, “10 Hours or No Sawdust” became the largest strike in Michigan for lumber workers. The Mills were the biggest industry in that area which proved hundreds of jobs from milling, cutting lumber and loading to many more jobs within the company. The Bay City and Saginaw Mills provided lumber to major cities in the country. (Bay-Journal)
Over the years the workers at the mills realized how many hours and days they put in and were not getting a fair return. Workers were working 50 plus hours, six days a week plus getting paid irregularly. At times instead of money, they would get store credit or even get paid with non U.S. currency. They also were not allowed to make any decisions within the company. They felt like slaves. (Professor Amy French video)
In the 1800’s there were not Lumber Men’s Unions. Mill workers were frustrated and tired of their work conditions so a few workers decided to strike which then led to hundreds of protestors which shut down majority of the Mills along the Saginaw River and into Bay City. They were protesting for a law for 10 hour days. The strike became violent which the Bay City police could no longer control due to the protestors armed with clubs and few pistols so the Lumbar Barons soon hired the Pinkerton detectives. The Pinkerton detectives failed and soon they were fired by the Barons and militia were called in from nearby cities. (Article provided by Professor French)
With the help of Governor Russel Alger the strike soon ended and the law was passed for 10 hour days. As Professor French stated the law was not effective as written. Like everything else there are always clauses. Because some workers feared that their job was in jeopardy they went back to work by signing the new contract that they thought it was for the 10 hour days also they did not an increase in pay. Workers ended up keeping their jobs and the Mill owners didn’t lose much financially during the strike because they were not paying workers while on strike. Workers soon learned the loopholes of the contract and continued to work their long hours again.
Unfortunately, in the late 1890’s many Saginaw and Bay Area Mills didn’t last due to short supply of forests. The strike didn’t end good for the workers and the Barons continued to keep work conditions the same and still profit. It’s sad that unappreciative and selflessness takes such a toll on workers and interfere with owners and workers relationships. We are thankful that we have the laws we do to protect us in our work environment. They may not be perfect but I can’t imagine working in the 1800’s like the mill worker’s did.