Imagine working a mandatory 11 to 14-hour day for six days a week. Imagine the lack of family time, sleep or even personal space. Your hands have an extreme amount of calluses and you’re suffering with back pain. You’re not only working all this time with kids or animals or something calm and collected, yet, something very dirty and dangerous, lumber fields. In July of 1885, 800 men were fed up with the hours and irregular pay checks, which sometimes were only paychecks of “store credit” and led a strike. These laborers were worked to the bone and all they requested was for a 10-hour day (Mobley 23).
They wanted a state law to say that they worked a 10-hour day with a regular paycheck in American currency. Any of the hours over 10 would be overtime and with this request, they were trying to negotiate with their employers. But, their employers weren’t personally involved and did not seem to care. These men received minimum wage for hard and dangerous work. These men were treated as if they were slaves (Mobley 24). These men should not have had to even ask for this law, it should have been common sense. Someone with decent morals would have noticed how inhumane this work was then.
The balance of power with laborers and employers during this time was dreadful. The employers did not think of laborers as men with life’s, yet, just something to get the job done without spending to much money to make that job happen. The employers did not seem to care about how long these me worked, or how hard. In the 19th century, employers had power. They had power to control many things. There was no such thing as a good industrial relation during this time. It was mostly, do this and that’s that kind of thing. But, the laborers were fed up and with good reason.
With 800 men on strike, it slowed business down. So, eventually a law was passed for these men stating that if the workers wished for this, then they could contract for more hours. But, with the contract, you got longer hours (Mobley 26). Which to me, makes the strike almost pointless. I say “almost” because they did manage to have a more regular pay in American currency, which is a big step. These men were beaten and arrested during this strike and all for a contract that would have them work more hours with a better paying system. So, with all this being said, can you imagine that?
- Victor J. Mobley: Michigan History, “1885 Saginaw Valley Strike”. Pg 23-27