Saginaw Strikers


Saginaw Strikers

 

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.

 

Sources:

 

Dr. F Week 7 Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_Okuy3JoF0&feature=youtu.be

 

1885 Saginaw Valley Strike

https://elearning.delta.edu/d2l/le/content/2894778/viewContent/1666695/View

 

7 thoughts on “Saginaw Strikers

  1. I’m sure the strikers were disappointed when in the end their efforts were only rewarded with a regular pay day. They deserved so much more. But they were probably glad to have just walked away with their jobs. After the lumber barons called in the police, the guard and the Pinkerton men, many of the strikers ended up either beaten or in jail. This would make many people walk away from their cause and just hope for the best. Labor and management relations have improved greatly, but their is still room for improvement.

  2. You have a good point when you bring up the fact that when you don’t make a lot of money, you don’t want to risk being fired by not taking orders. Keeping workers on the cusp of poverty to keep them just desperate enough to hold onto their jobs and afraid to unionize is an old trick.

  3. The fact that workers had to go on strike for these very necessary changes is disappointing. Was there any government regulation then? Were the hours being worked and so little compensation not raise attention to anyone? I think you are completely right when you mention fear and distrust. This alone makes for a hostile work environment. When you have that going on and you are trying to raise a family or make a life for yourself, it was brave for them to hold this strike, not knowing if they would have a job to come back to when all said and done.

  4. It is shocking and appalling to look back at how employees were treated back then. No rights, no security, no thoughts or concerns about their safety. When they became sick or hurt due to the terrible and unsafe conditions, it was “their fault”. Comparatively speaking, it is even harder to imagine these conditions because of all the rights we have today and the fact that none of us have ever had to experience things like this in our day and age.

  5. It is interesting how these abuses by companies forced workers to such drastic measures when all they wanted was to work, and receive fair wages. The workers’ plights against their employers was a huge step forward for not only Michigan, but the entire country in terms of human rights regarding workers rights to fair, safe, and equal treatment. These kinds of abuses seem ridiculous in today’s time because of the advocacy by Michigan workers, and none perhaps more so than in the Saginaw valley.

  6. As a father myself I can understand how the workers felt, not knowing whether their families would be taken care of, wondering what would happen if they couldn’t continue to work, never knowing how long they could be at work that day. I know that they weren’t happy with the immediate end results but I believe that standing up for themselves and demanding change showed the companies that these men weren’t going to just lie down and do what they are told all the time.

  7. It was disappointing to learn that these strikes weren’t extremely successful in making immediate labor change but they sure helped the future work force of America. They were brave for standing up for what they knew they deserved. They showed true American spirit and didn’t allow these mill owners to act like slave owners. These workers should have never had to strike in the first place if the owners actually thought about their employees instead of just filling their own pockets.

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