I was recently reading Sidney Harring’s, Policing A Class Society: The Experience of American Cities 1865 – 1915, and came across a brief description of a labor strike in Grand Rapids in May of 1891. I decided to look up how the local newspapers reported on the strike.
Both cable and horse car workers went on strike May 10, 1891, for higher wages and union contracts. The company began hiring scab workers immediately. As the week progressed, workers tried to keep cars from running, first by inducing others not to take their jobs, but later also by blocking the cars.
The Grand Rapids Eagle and the Grand Rapids Democrat newspapers, both reported on the strike. The Grand Rapids Eagle even reprinted the text of a flyer that the striking workers were handing out, which includes information about a labor parade and the role of the local Sheriff’s office, as you can see here on the right.
The strike had the support of several merchants in the area, specifically because of how it impacted sales. Some 65 merchants signed a statement, pleading with the company to settle the dispute with the striking workers, as is reflected in the headline of the Grand Rapids Democrat.
As the strike continued into several days, there were reported incidents of strikers and sympathizers stopping some of the few cable cars that were running. One report states:
“either strikers or sympathizers stopped a South Division street car this morning and threatened the driver and the conductor unless they should stop running the car, and they did stop, the passengers being compelled to leave the car.”
At a labor parade, which was organized in support of the strikers, where several thousand people showed up, one speaker shared the comments, which were reported on in the Grand Rapids Eagle, here on the right.
“The management of the street railway system of Grand Rapids realizes that in the conduct of its business carrying passengers it is held more accountable to public opinion than would be any other corporation or individual.”
As the strike continued, there were other actions taken by striking workers, including marches and attempts to shut down roads, like what happened on South Division one night, where workers placed a large iron bar across the tracks to prevent it from moving.
Just before the strike had ended, other members of the business community decided to hold a meeting, which was chaired by furniture baron Charles Sligh. We include the headline for this meeting and comments by other businessmen here below, which demonstrated that they would not tolerate disorder in Grand Rapids and that what they prized above all were law abiding citizens and obedient workers.