Labor History in 2:00

May 23 Sheriff Ordered to Attack Striking Workers

May 23, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1934.

That was the day the Lucas County Sheriff ordered an attack on thousands of Electric Auto-Lite strikers and Unemployed League supporters, touching off the six-day Battle of Toledo.

The Toledo Auto-Lite Strike was one of three historic strikes of 1934 that turned the tide favorably toward industrial organizing.

The Auto-Lite company had granted a wage increase but reneged on promises of a first contract that included seniority rights, a closed shop and more.

Workers walked off the job in mid-April.

As the strike was about to collapse, Unemployed League forces, organized by A.J. Muste’s American Workers Party, joined picket lines in support.

When legal wrangling failed to subdue the strike, scabs and deputized ‘specials’ were amassed.

On this day, the picket lines grew to as many as 10,000.

The deputies began arresting strike leaders and attacking picketers with fire hoses, tear and vomit gas.

Historian Bryan Palmer describes the scene this way: “Angry workers laid siege to the factory; 1500 strikebreakers were imprisoned.

The scene was one of almost medieval tumult: windows were smashed with stones and bricks, many of them launched from giant slingshots improvised from rubber inner-tubes…When every window in the factory had been smashed, one striker shouted: “now you have your open shop.”…

The next day, 900 Ohio National Guardsmen arrived on the scene… women jeered ‘the landing of the Marines,’ while soap-boxers, many of them veterans sporting First World War medals, offered impromptu lectures on how the troops were breaking the strike…

The strikers’ ranks faced a hail of Guardsmen bullets, which left two dead and scores wounded.”

The battle raged on until the end of May, when it was clear a general strike was imminent.

 

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