Friday, September 9, 2011

The Boston Police Strike of 1919

“Ground is very wet and I can not do any thing fitting wheat ground.  Has been a pleasant day.”

Newly arrived Massachusetts Militia tries to keep order in Scollay Square

In the Boston Police Strike, the Boston police rank and file went out on strike on September 9, 1919 in order to achieve recognition for their trade union and improvements in wages and working conditions. They faced an implacable opponent in Police Commissioner Edwin Upton Curtis who denied that police officers had any right to form a union, much less one affiliated with a larger organization like the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
Attempts at reconciliation between the Commissioner and the police officers, particularly on the part of Boston's Mayor Andrew James Peters, failed. During the strike, Boston experienced several nights of lawlessness though actual property damage was not extensive. Several thousand members of the State Guard supported by volunteers restored order. Press reaction both locally and nationally described the strike as Bolshevik-inspired and aimed at the destruction of civil society. The strikers were called "deserters" and "agents of Lenin."
Samuel Gompers of the AFL recognized that the strike was damaging labor in the public mind and advised the strikers to return to work. The Police Commissioner, however, remained adamant and refused to re-hire the striking policemen. He was supported by Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, whose rebuke of Gompers earned him a national reputation. The strike proved a setback for labor and the AFL reversed its attempts at organizing police officers for another two decades. Coolidge won the Republican nomination for vice-president of the US in the 1920 presidential election

Edwin U. Curtis
Boston Police Commissioner

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