“Ten Hours or No Sawdust”


“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.

7 thoughts on ““Ten Hours or No Sawdust”

  1. 10 hour work days weren’t a lot to ask for. It blows my mind how as a society today our work ethic has changed so much. They went from just wanting to go home after ten hours to workers know being upset they have to work a whole 8 hour shift. At my job we get 2 15-minute paid breaks and 1 30-minutes to an hour lunch that’s not paid and my co-workers still manage to complain about it. It’s a huge difference and I think it says a lot about what’s changed. But in regards to the strike, I’m curious to know if the employers knew that they would eventually come back without any further compensation or regulation due to needing employment.

  2. It’s bizarre to think about how much influence these employers had over the lives of their workers. They controlled them. Thankfully this is something that we don’t have to deal with in our current day and age. At least not in our country. Something I thought about is that this is still a problem in the world. Just because it doesn’t happen in the US doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen at all. Which is sad if you think about it. There are people who work in sweat shops who still deal with these problems every single day.

  3. It is ludicrous to think how hard people use to work. People today still work hard, but with time and technology it isn’t as labor intensive. It is sad how the mill owners took advantage of their workers. I loved your title! Great perspective!

  4. I don’t know how anyone can work 60+ hours a week with no reward other than making a modest living and supporting a family. The workers were right to ask for less hours AND better pay, the system and the political power of the lumbering companies reminds me of a modern day serfdom, with the workers not being allowed to progress their lives I any way, because merely surviving took almost all of their waking time.

  5. I can not imagine working so hard with no benefits or even a stable pay check. But this was a good enough job to support your family back then. So strange to see how far we have come and so rewarding to the men and women who made this change possible. I thought you explained very well on a timeline of it all and gave good ideas along with it.

  6. It’s crazy to think about how much influence the employers had in the lives of their employees. They owned them in almost every aspect. They owned their time, their labor, their effort, and rewarded them with insufficient pay and unfair hours. They didn’t respect them and treated them like slaves, not even acknowledging their hard work or importance in the company. Today that would absolutely never be tolerated, and the strikes played a big role in our freedom and rights as employees today. They rose up and fought for the freedoms we have today, so we wouldn’t have to endure the same unfairness they had to.

  7. I agree that employers held a lot and definitely too much power over laborers when really, it should have been the other way around, employees should hold power the labor. This is why strikes continue to work today. I think it’s interesting that recently there has been discussion in the news about running a train to traverse city, and it does sort of tie into this. Great title!

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