Labor History in 2:00

September 14 General Strike in Illinois

September 14, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1917. 

That was the day Illinois Governor Frank Lowden hoped to meet with striking streetcar men in an effort to end their strike.  

Transit workers in Springfield, the state’s capitol, had been off the job since July 25th. 

But the strike had gained so much support that Springfield had now erupted into a full blown general strike. 

According to the Sangamon County Historical Society, thousands of “union members shut down mines, railroads, bakeries, restaurants, laundries and construction sites… following the violent crackdown of a pro-labor march by state police and militia.” 

That march had been scheduled for September 9. 

The unions hoped to show support for the striking streetcar men after a number of clashes between strikers and state militia. 

After they were denied a permit, many of the 50 or so unions decided to march anyway, and were attacked.

Some were shot, more than 40 suffered bayonet-inflicted injuries. 

By the 11th, most everyone in Springfield had walked off the job. 

Striking women shoe factory workers stopped a streetcar, pulling the scab drivers off by force. 

By the end of the week, as many as 12,000 members of 34 unions in the city were on strike. 

When telephone operators walked off the job, they paralyzed communications of the scab streetcar drivers and the State National Guardsmen. 

The streetcar strikers refused to meet with the governor until troops were withdrawn from the city. 

The governor insisted disloyal, pro-German forces were at fault for the “labor troubles.” 

By the 16th, the streetcar men agreed to negotiate and the general strike was called off. 

But the company refused to meet striker demands for recognition and higher wages or even to take them back.

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