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
7 thoughts on “Time To Strike For Laborers”
Workers in the 1880’s didn’t have much choice but to work the jobs that were available to them and do what they were told. It must have been very hard for these men (and their families) to walk out and strike. They didn’t know if their demands would be met and if they would even have jobs to come back to when it was all said and done. It is a shame that they didn’t get more for all of the sacrifices they made in an attempt to improve working conditions. They did pave the way for future groups to expect more from their employers and may have been the example to get the motivation going for employee unionization.
We still have issues of unfair working conditions today. Many people make minimum wage for work that deserves much higher pay. Like the lumber barons of the 1880’s. the rich like to hold on to their money, no matter what year it is, or how unfair it may be.
I can’t imagine working in such conditions, especially having such random pay. You’re right when you say that there was no such thing as a fair industrial relation back then. It’s difficult to call a strike “pointless”, as how could anyone have known what the outcome of the strike would have been? Even if it only sent a message to other employers, every strike means something, and it’s better than lying down and doing nothing.
The strike set an example in terms of the working class fighting for what they are entitled to receive. Today, we have Human Resources departments within big companies, Unions, regulations posted in break rooms and employee handbooks all because issues such as the Saginaw Valley strike needing to be addressed. These men set an example for future generations to stand up for themselves.
The introduction really made me think about how it must’ve felt and been. I don’t think the workers had much of a choice because I don’t think any one would want to work with those conditions. I think that a strike no matter the outcome has a voice with it and brings attention to issues that need to be changed.
Unfortunately because of times being tough in the 1880’s you had take what you could get for a job to support your family but to be treated like slaves was wrong. I myself would of been one of the strikers. I agree with standing up for your rights and trying to negotiate to what is fair. It’s sad that they had to continue to go back to work for such hateful owners (Lumber Barons). At least now in the twentieth century, if we feel we are treated unfair we have many options. We can look for another job, we have unions and laws to protect us. Over all, the wages here in the U. S. now are not so bad, at least if we compare it to the 1800’s.
I personally have worked many long shifts at work, sometimes 14-16 hr days. This however was my choice. I know that I would never tolerate a company forcing me to work that many hours for weeks on end and threatening to fire me if I don’t participate. The workers may not have been able to get all of their demands met but they did lay some important groundwork for the future as far as labor regulations go.
This strike was so important because it showed people, both employers and employees, that we were willing to fight for the conditions we deserve. Even though the strike was eventually squashed, they still stood up for their rights and their livelihoods and showed that they wouldn’t go down without a fight. This strike set in motion the events that give us our rights as employees today, and I don’t think we should take it for granted.