A short history of the Boston police strike, 1919

A scab police officer during the 1919 strike

A short history of the unsuccessful strike of Boston police officers in 1919. libcom.org does not support strikes of police officers but we host this article for reference.

In Boston in 1919, police officers worked 83-98 hour weeks and were paid $.21-$.25 per hour. Amidst a nationwide strike wave, the local policemen's organization, known as the Boston Social Club, decided to affiliate with the American Federation of Labour (AFL) when nineteen of their leaders were fired by the Police Commissioner, the club members voted 1,134-2 to strike.

They also demanded higher wages and shorter working hours.

Only around 400 of the 1500-strong force continued to work during the strike.

The Central Labor Union ordered. affiliated unions to vote on a general strike in support of the policemen.

The president of Harvard offered 1,000 students to replace the police, and many volunteers offered their services, but city officials preferred to let various minor disorders develop unopposed - looting of stores, stoning of trolley cars, and dice-playing on Boston Common.

The result was a huge public uproar over riot and revolution in Boston. "Lenin and Trotsky are on their way," stated the Wall Street Journal.1

On the second day the State Guard occupied the city, then patrolled the streets for the next three months. The entire police force was fired and a new one gradually recruited.

Against such pressures the strike was clearly doomed, and the C.L.U. decided that "the time is not now opportune for the ordering of a general strike."2

The main effect of the strike was to greatly increase fear of threats to "law and order" by showing that even the minions of law and order themselves were workers not immune to the spreading spirit of revolt.3

Most of this text has been excerpted from Jeremy Brecher's excellent book, Strike!, but some text has been added by libcom.org.

  • 1. Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 1919, cited in Robert K. Murray, Red Scare, A Study in National Hysteria, 1919-1920 (N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964), p. 129.
  • 2. Boston Evening Transcript, Sept. 12,1919, cited in Murray, p. 129.
  • 3. Arthur Warner, "The End of Boston's Police Strike," The Nation, Vol. 109, No. 2842, Dec. 20,1919, p. 790.

Comments

cresspot
Oct 4 2013 22:06

You don't support policer strikers? I hope police go on strike forever, ha, ha!

Steven.
Oct 5 2013 00:17
cresspot wrote:
You don't support policer strikers? I hope police go on strike forever, ha, ha!

well yes we would support that!

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 30 2014 12:33

Why don't you support strikes by police officers?

That makes zero sense to me.

Policing badly needs to be reformed and a successful police strike might contribute to that. Also in the event of widespread strikes by other workers - especially other public sector workers - a police strike might be the difference between victory and defeat