1835 Philadelphia general strike

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Carpenter's Association banner promoting the ten-hour day, 1835.

The 1835 Philadelphia general strike took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the first general strike in North America and involved some 20,000 workers who struck for a ten-hour workday and increased wages. The strike ended in complete victory for the workers.[1]

Background[edit]

Carpenters in Boston, Massachusetts had struck for a ten-hour workday in 1825, 1832, and 1835, but each strike ended in failure. A circular written during the 1835 strike influenced workers in Philadelphia. The circular read "We have been too long subjected to the odious, cruel, unjust and tyrannical system which compels the operative mechanic to exhaust his physical and mental powers. We have rights and duties to perform as American citizens and members of society, which forbid us to dispose of more than ten hours for a day's work."[2]

Strike[edit]

Shipyard workers advocating for ten-hour day, 1835.

Influenced by events in Boston, Irish workers on the Schuylkill River coal wharves went on strike for a ten-hour day. They were soon joined by workers from many other trades, including leather dressers, printers, carpenters, bricklayers, masons, house painters, bakers, and city employees.[1]

On June 6, a mass meeting of workers, lawyers, doctors, and a few businessmen, was held in the State House courtyard. The meeting unanimously adopted a set of resolutions giving full support to the workers' demand for wage increases and a shorter workday, as well as increased wages for women workers and a boycott of any coal merchant who worked his men more than ten hours.[3]

The strike quickly came to a close after city public works employees joined the action. The Philadelphia city government announced that the "hours of labour of the working men employed under the authority of the city corporation would be from 'six to six' during the summers season, allowing one hour for breakfast, and one for dinner."[4] On June 22, three weeks after the coal heavers initially struck, the ten-hour system and an increase in wages for piece-workers was adopted in the city. As news of the strikers' success spread to other cities, a wave of general strikes forced most of the country to adopt the same standard.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. 1, From Colonial Times to the Founding of The American Federation of Labor, International Publishers, 1975, pages 116–118
  2. ^ Commons, ed., Documentary History of American Industrial Society, Vol. VI, page 96
  3. ^ Commons, ed., Documentary History of American Industrial Society, Vol. VI, page 39
  4. ^ Proceedings of the Government and Citizens of Philadelphia on the Reduction of the Hours of Labor, and Increase of Wages, pages 4-10