It’s 1885 in Saginaw, MI. Workers are exhausted, overworked, unpaid and ignored by employers. It was either work when and for what your boss told you or your family wasn’t going to have food on the table. Families were struggling, households didn’t know when their next check was coming in or if it would be enough to cover what they needed even after a crazy work week. But not crazy like we think in today’s society.
There were so many things wrong with how employers treated their workers in 1885. Forcing them to work sometimes 10-14 hours a day, 6 days a week. There was no such thing as workman’s compensation. It was keep going or lose your job. If someone got hurt, who was to blame? Themselves or their coworkers. Not the dangerous work conditions in a sawmill, lumber yard or a mine. Plain and simple. Your fault. Sounds like an awesome time to be trying to support a family, right?
The workers were ready for this to change. They started demanding that employers actually give reasonable compensation for what they were working and risking. Including payment in American currency, and being paid on a regular schedule. They also demanded that employers only make them work 10 hour days, but they wanted to keep a wage of 12 hours a day worked (Dr. F Week 7 Video). So basically, a raise in more precise words. I would think they asked in that wording to avoid leaving it up to the employers to choose what they get for their raise. Which was pretty smart, honestly. These days when most people ask for raises they either don’t tell their employer what kind of raise they expect or they tell them something low when you could’ve gotten more if that’s what you opened up with.
The strike was growing, with workers pay decreasing more as sales went down and Bay City pipeworks employees joining the cause, they had over 800 men on strike with them. (1885 Saginaw Valley Strike)
But even with Michigan Legislature passing a law for them to only have to work 10 hour days unless paid for the overtime (Dr. F Week 7 Video), and the strikes that the employees were having that was tearing down their business, the employers managed to force them to sign labor contract not in the favor and ignoring the demands of the strike.
The employers still had control. The strikes were a great course of actions and inspired many people I’m sure. But when the lumber yard employers profit was starting to decrease from the severity of their strike they took a more forceful and violent course of action. The strikers in Saginaw and Bay City area started to see physical consequences of their choices. Being arrested, beaten and targeted by pinkerton men (Dr. F Week 7 Video). It became a huge ordeal when they had to call in Michigan Guard. So as said earlier, the employers still had control, they came out with what they wanted and the workers were no longer striking and back to taking what they could get. Being forced to settle or face unreasonable repercussions. The only thing they were able to get out of them was a scheduled payday.
Crazy difference to what policies and regulations are set today to protect employees from their employer take advantage of them. In 2018 we have set laws for almost everything when it come to the workplace. Almost no situation doesn’t have a regulation you should follow when working some place now. If you hurt yourself on the job, are being harassed, underpaid or forced to stay there’s going to be something stating how to go about it legally.
Employers used to control the life of the people they hired and forced to sign labor contracts. It was do or get fired. When you’re already barely making money you don’t want to risk being fired due to not taking orders. I think the relationship was one of something like fear and mistrust between the two. Employees with no job security in many ways probably feared what would happen if they tried doing another strike as they did.
Dr. F Week 7 Video
1885 Saginaw Valley Strike