Western Labor Parades

First Published: New York Times, May 2 1886, p. 2;
HTML: for in April, 2002;
Proofed and Corrected: by Dawn Gaitis, 2007.


On May 1, 1886, working men mobilized in support of the eight-hour workday in cities across the United States. In this document the New York Times reported on the diverse ways that the event unfolded across the United States, with some employers insisting that they would not pay a full day's wages for eight hours' work. One consistent theme, however, was the overwhelmingly male composition of the demonstrators.


CHICAGO, May 1. – One good-sized procession, one small one, two small meetings, some gatherings too feeble to be called meetings, and less than 30,000 laboring men taking a holiday, either willingly or unwillingly, represent the first day of the era in which, it has been declared, eight hours shall constitute a day's work and 10 hours' pay shall be gotten for eight hours' work. The red flag has bobbed up here and there, some incendiary speeches have been made, and on one occasion the police have had to expel a crowd of 1,000 men in which the tramp outnumbered the workman from railroad property. No blood has been spilled, and the 1st of May has been more of a holiday than it usually is in a land where people get up and move upon that date. Opinion is divided to-night as to whether this is all there is to be of the eight-hour movement or whether it is a parade prior to an actual engagement. By far the most interested part of to-day's features has been furnished by the freight handlers, for they were the men who came into mild conflict with the police. The men held a meeting on the Harrison-street Viaduct early this morning. The speeches were good natured, but firm, and there was nothing to show that the men had changed their minds about not going to work till they were given eight hours' work and ten hours' pay. After the meeting adjourned the strikers made a tour of the railroad freight depots. Wherever men were found at work they were induced, either by arguments or threats, to quit. At the Lake Shore station the doors and windows were closed, but a striker with a sharp eye discovered that freight handlers were at work inside. The doors were broken down and a crowd 1,000 strong forced its way into the building. A couple of policemen tried to drive the intruders out, but, of course, could not. Capt. Buckley and a squad of men had better luck, and the crowd tumbled out into the street.

At the Wabash station a notice to the effect that the road was in the hands of a Receiver and therefore could not be safely interfered with [h]ad no terrors for the crowd. The Illinois Central and Northwestern (Galena Division) freight handlers were visited but not molested because they have made their demands and given the railroad companies until Monday to answer. The freight handlers on every road running into Chicago, except the two last named, are, therefore, on a strike, and declare that they will not return to work till their demands are granted. The railroad companies say they can not and will not grant the demands, and that the place of every freight handler who does not report for work Monday morning will be filled by a new man as soon as a man can be found. The companies say they will have no trouble in engaging new men.

The Mayor says he will furnish the new hands with protection. Many of the roads expect that the old men will return to work Monday morning.

About 10,000 Bohemians, Poles, and Germans employed in and about the lumber yards marched through the streets to-day with music and flags. There were two red flags carried at the head of the procession. At one point the procession and a funeral party came together at right angles, and there was a heated discussion as to which should have the right of way. The funeral lost. The procession rolled through the streets like a wave following a tugboat up a narrow stream. Both margins of the rush lapped into the fringing saloon, lapped them dry, and rushed out again, running a little slower for the detention. Some incendiary speeches advising that the torch be applied to the lumber yards were made. The other procession included 1,200 furniture men and wood workers, who were quiet and orderly. The freight handlers held a second meeting in the afternoon and listened to more speeches.

As nearly as can be estimated the men not at work to-day were divided as follows: Laboring men taking a holiday of their own accord (including the 10,000 lumbermen), 15,000; freight handlers who have struck, 2,500; carpenters, woodworkers, and other workmen who have struck, 5,000; men who are practically locked out, their employers having closed their shops indefinitely because of the existing troubles, 5,000; total, 27,500. This estimate is probably an outside one.

The temper of the crowds who watched the processions marching through the streets to-day was that of curious interest only. Here and there a bit of sullenness was apparent, and this in the eyes of some indicated probable trouble as soon as another working week begins. An amusing feature of the strike for a shorter day came out to-day in connection with the demands of the men employed in the breweries, who demanded 10 hours' work, 10 per cent. advance in wages, and free beer when they felt disposed to drink. The employers replied, granting an hour's less work per day without reduction of pay, and beer at 6, 9, 11, 12, and 4 o'clock, not more than three glasses to be drank, however, at one time.


ST. LOUIS, MO., May 1. – The furniture manufacturers of this city formed an association last night and unanimously resolved to operate their factories on the eight hours per day system after to-day, on a basis of eight hours' wages. They also resolved that they would tolerate no interference as to whom they shall employ or how their business shall be managed. An Executive Committee of seven was appointed, to which will be submitted for settlement all differences which may arise. In case of failure to settle any serious trouble, a general shut-down of the factories may at any time be ordered.

All the plumbers in the city, 200 in number, quit work this morning. They made a demand yesterday of the bosses that they adopt the eight-hour system without decreasing their wages, beginning to-day. The employers considered it too short a notice and asked for further time to consider the matter, requesting the men to remain at work until they should have arrived at a decision. This the men refused to do and stopped work.

Several hundred carpenters attended a meeting of the Carpenters' Union last night to consider the eight-hour movement. It was decided that beginning to-day they should go to work at 8 o'clock in the morning, take an hour for dinner, and quit at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, thus being in service eight hours. No strike is expected to grow out of this action, as the bosses have agreed to the proposition and the men demand pay for but eight hours' work.

Two hundred men employed on the water works in East St. Louis struck to-day for eight hours' work per day and ten hours' wages. The city refused to grant their demand and will endeavor to procure new men to fill the strikers' places.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., May 1. – May Day has brought no general strike here among the workingmen, yet there is much unrest, and it cannot be definitely determined what will be done next week. Inquiry among the employers of the Sarven Wheel Works, which yesterday shut down until Wednesday, notifying their employes that they would give eight hours' pay for eight hours' work, and that all who wished to comply with those terms could return to work on Wednesday, discloses a general feeling of hope that nothing precipitating trouble or protracted idleness will result out of the present condition of things. In some of the departments requests for an increase in wages have been made and a few employers have evinced a desire to bring about a general demand for an increase in wages to the amount of from 10 to 15 per cent. and the inauguration of the eight-hour rule. This does not seem to be generally supported. "Men can't step out on the street now and find bosses asking them to take jobs," said one of the Sarven wheel employes to-day. "We get from $1.25 to $1.50 per day as day men, spoke turners make $8 and $10 a week. These are not high wages, but they are as high as can be paid, probably, in the present condition of things." It seems likely that quite 90 per cent. of the men will return to work next Monday unless the situation changes materially in the meantime. Employes say that a majority of the men would vote for 10 hours' work per day, as the firm had announced that wages would be regulated by the number of hours of work. Among the requests preferred by the men of the company was one for a 10 per cent. advance asked by the spoke assorters. These hope to meet with a favorable reply, but make no threats in case of refusal.

All of the employes of the Central Chair Company, 80 in number, went out on a strike this morning soon after the whistle blew. Last night a committee waited on the officers and asked for Saturday half holidays without decrease of wages. The firm was unable to grant the request and the men returned to work this morning apparently satisfied, but at a given moment retired in a body from the factory. They asked 57 hours' work for a week with 60 hours' pay, a concession granted in another chair shop. The men say they were not ordered out by the Knights of Labor, but came out on their own hook. The officers say the demand cannot be granted, which is in effect an increase of 5 per cent. in pay. After paying all obligations last year the company had a surplus of 4 1/2 per cent. To grant an increase of 5 per cent. in wages would virtually lead to bankruptcy. If the price of chairs should be advanced wages could be increased, but otherwise a general advance is impossible.

DETROIT, May 1. – The threatened strike at Grand Rapids is finally averted, and to-day is given up to a holiday there. The employers accept eight hours as a day's work with a corresponding reduction in wages on all workmen above $1 per day. On this basis an advance of 5 per cent is made, with the promise of as much more in two months. No question is raised over the employers' announcement that they will run their factories in their own way, employing and discharging whom they please. These matters are expected to adjust themselves.

There has been no difficulty in this city except in the breweries. Nearly all the workmen in these establishments are out for a reduction of hours, an increase of wages, and the enforcement of strict union rules. The builders and carpenters have compromised their difficulties by agreeing for a year on a basis of nine hours' work for the present ten hours' pay, and six months' notice thereafter of any change.

MILWAUKEE, Wis., May 1. – All brewers and maltsters in the city struck to-day. Not less than 3,000 men are affected.

LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 1. – In response to a demand for the adoption of the eight-hour system the Furniture Exchange to-day decided to shut down works unless employes would accept pay for eight hours' work.

WASHINGTON, May 1. – The eight-hour rule adopted by the various building trades unions will go into effect in this city Monday morning, and as most of the master builders and contractors are determined to resist the demand for shorter hours, building operations will be practically suspended until some compromise can be effected.

PITTSBURG[sic], Penn., May 1 – The furniture manufacturers having refused to grant their employes their demands for a reduction from ten to eight hours' labor per day, a general strike was inaugurated to-day. Nearly every furniture factory in Pittsburg[sic] and Allegheny City is closed and over 600 men are idle. Both sides are firm and there is no immediate prospect of a settlement.

The stonecutters in the two cities are also out for nine hours a day, but will return to work on Monday, the employers generally having conceded to the demands.

The carpenters will strike on Monday.

PHILADELPHIA, May 1. – The cabinetmakers refuse to compromise with the manufacturers, and a general strike will probably result. They demand that on and after May 8 eight hours shall constitute a day's work. The employes of the Hae & Kilburn Manufacturing Company were notified to-day that the demands would not be granted, and accordingly 30 of the 50 cabinetmakers employed by the company laid down their tools and ceased work. The rest refused to join in the strike. The company employs about 200 men, Mr. C. Kilburn, the President of the company, said to-day that he will fill the places of the strikers next week.

TROY, N.Y., May 1. – This morning about 300 Italians, employed by the Delaware and Hudson Company in building a double track between Coon's Crossing and Ballston, struck for an increase of wages. They have been receiving $1.10 per day, demanded $1.25, and were offered $1.15, which they refused to accept. After stopping work they tied red handkerchiefs to their pickaxes and shovels and marched down the track in a body to another place where a second gang was at work and induced them to join the strikers. A large number of Italians arrived from New York by boat this morning and proceeded to Round Lake to work on the railroad.

HARTFORD, Conn., May 1. – At noon to-day two of the striking gasmen returned to work for $12 a week, including Sundays. They struck for $14 and the keeping open of a door to the retort room, so that they could enjoy a draught of air. This opening cooled the retort, and Superintendent Harbison ordered the door closed, which order not being obeyed was enforced, first by the nailing up of the door and afterward by the bricking up of the aperture. The men, who had been getting $11 a week, then struck, but the Knights of Labor did not indorse[sic] them, and they had a hard time of it. All but the two named are still out, but it is expected that they will return by Monday. A meeting of all the labor organizations is called for next Thursday night to arrange for the employment of the unemployed persons in the building trades. It is supposed that the movement will be in the nature of a co-operative enterprise to put up small homes. Carpenters have been warned not to go to Bridgeport, as there is to be a labor movement there soon.

NEW-HAVEN, Conn., May 1. – Some of the dock laborers employed by the New-Haven and Northampton Railroad Company struck to-day for an increase from $1.35 to $1.50 a day.

BOSTON, Mass., May 1. – In this city the Trades Union of Carpenters, the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, and the Plumbers' Union – 5,000 men in all – have resolved to demand eight hours on Monday and will strike if the demand is refused. The Master Builders' Association, 200 strong, unanimously adopted a manifesto yesterday afternoon bitterly condemning the action of the workmen, laying the whole blame on the labor unions, and declaring that the demands cannot be complied with without disaster to the business and working men both, and that they will close up business rather than submit to any interference.

PORTLAND, Me., May 1. – All cigarmakers belonging to the union here are out, the manufacturers having refused to grant their demand for an advance in wages.