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A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

The strikers were not organized


in District Assemblies 27 and

54, suspended work, and the memorable lockout began. The packers' association rejected all offers of compromise and on October 18 the men were ordered to work on the ten-hour basis. But the dispute in October, which was marked by a complete lack of ill-feeling on the part of the men and was one of the most peaceable labor disputes of the year, was in reality a mere prelude to a second disturbance which broke out in the plant of Swift & Company on November 2 and became general throughout the stockyards on November 6. The men demanded a return to the eight-hour day, but the packers' association, which was now joined by Swift & Company, who formerly had kept aloof, not only refused to give up the ten-hour day, but declared that they would employ no Knights of Labor in the future. The Knights retaliated by declaring a boycott on the meat of Armour & Company. The behavior of the men was now no longer peaceable as before, and the employers took extra precautions by prevailing upon the governor to send two regiments of militia in addition to the several hundred Pinkerton detectives employed by the association. To all appearances, the men were slowly gaining over the employers, for on November 10 the packers' association rescinded its decision not to employ Knights, when suddenly on November 15, like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, a telegram arrived from Grand Master Workman Powderly ordering the men back to work. Powderly had refused to consider the reports from the members
of the General Executive Board who were on the ground, but, as was charged by them, was guided instead by the advice of a priest who had appealed to him to call off the strike and thus put an end to the suffering of the men and their families.

New York witnessed an even more characteristic Knights of Labor strike and on a larger scale. This strike began as two insignificant separate strikes, one by coal-handlers at the Jersey ports supplying New York with coal and the other by longshoremen on the New York water front; both starting on January 1, 1887. Eighty-five coal-handlers employed by the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, members of the Knights of Labor, struck against a reduction of 2-1/2 cents an hour in the wages of the "top-men" and were joined by the trimmers who had grievances of their own. Soon the strike spread to the other roads and the number of striking coal-handlers reached 3000. The longshoremen's strike was begun by 200 men, employed by the Old Dominion Steamship Company, against a reduction in wages and the hiring of cheap men by the week. The strikers were not organized, but the Ocean Association, a part of the Knights of Labor, took up their cause and was assisted by the longshoremen's union. Both strikes soon widened out through a series of sympathetic strikes of related trades and finally became united into one. The Ocean Association declared a boycott on the freight of the Old Dominion Company and this was strictly obeyed by all of the longshoremen's unions. The International Boatmen's Union refused to allow their boats to be used for "scab coal" or to permit their members to steer the companies' boats. The longshoremen joined the boatmen in refusing to handle coal, and the shovelers followed. Then the grain handlers on both floating and stationary elevators refused to load ships with grain on which there was scab coal, and the bag-sewers stood with them. The longshoremen now resolved to go out and refused to work on ships which received scab coal, and finally they decided to stop work altogether on all kinds of craft in the harbor until the trouble should be settled. The strike spirit spread to a large number of freight handlers working for railroads along the river front, so that in the last week of January the number of strikers in New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, reached approximately 28,000; 13,000 longshoremen, 1000 boatmen, 6000 grain handlers, 7500 coal-handlers, and 400 bag-sewers.


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