“Ten Hours or No Sawdust”
The mid-late 1800’s was a time when what we know as America was beginning to be built. Labor industries were on the rise and the country was beginning to be connected by railroads. All of this was possible with lumber and Michigan was a huge contributor.
In Bay City the lumber industry was large and in charge with a lot of employees over many different lumber mills. These millhands were overworked and were not compensated for this labor abuse. They would be forced to work 11-12 hour days and would sometimes not even be paid in actual money. Mill owners took advantage of the millhands and it wore on these workers as they were tired of being treated like slaves. They wanted ten hour workdays and pay compensation for their time. Strikes began as millhands started standing up for what they deserved. Most of these early strikes were quickly snuffed out as other workers were afraid to join and mill owners just ignored them.
Finally in 1870, a serious strike was able to shut down production in a mill for a few short days. Other mill workers from different mills noticed this and the strikers began to rise in number. Some of these strikes threatened to turn violent and law enforcement tried to intervene. These officers were outnumbered however by an overwhelming thousand and some striking millhands.
A law for ten hour works managed to be put into affect in 1885 but there were loopholes for mill owners to still keep 12 hour contracted workers. After all of this the mill owners still didn’t budge and eventually by September of 1885 workers started returning to work and the strikes dwindled. The millhands didn’t gain anything from the strikes besides showing that the laborers were a powerful force to be reckoned with.
The Saginaw Valley strike of 1885 goes to show us that employers held a lot and definitely too much power over laborers. They didn’t care about the workers risks that they were taking performing these jobs. Employers only cared about filling their pockets and stuck firm with their beliefs. Even after a law for ten hour workdays was passed, they still found loopholes for it. This strike however was definitely groundbreaking for future labor rights activists.