Presidential Leadership Averts Disaster – 1902 Coal Strike

Today in History, October, 1902:

President Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first president to intervene in a labor dispute.

Anthracite coal miners, organized by the United Mine Workers, were asking for fewer work hours and more pay. The mining companies refused and the miners went on a strike that had lasted for months at this point.

American industry and transportation relied almost exclusively on coal at this time in our nation’s development, as did very many homes for heat.

The dispute had already had a significant effect on the country, and winter was coming on. The potential for countless citizens freezing to death was quite real.

President Roosevelt felt he had to act to prevent a national catastrophe. He invited both parties to the White House to mediate an agreement on behalf of the American people.

The miners agreed to negotiate, the Coal companies were not so inclined.

Roosevelt, never shy to take the bull by the horns, promised to have the military take over the industry if a settlement was not reached.

By October 23rd the miners were back to work, with less hours and more pay. The coal companies did not, however, recognize the UMWA, and the story was far from over.

But a disaster had been avoided and Roosevelt’s re-election was assured.

Blue Flu

Today in History, September 9, 1919:

The Boston Police Strike. By 1919, the cost of living had risen 76%, while Boston Police Officers pay had increased 18%. New hires were making $2 per day…the same as they made when the force was created in 1854. Elevator operators were making more than cops, and most city employees made at least twice what cops made, many of whom had just returned from serving in WWI. Conditions in the police stations were intolerable; on today’s date most of the force refused to show up for work.

Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the National Guard to patrol the streets, and the Mayor refused to rehire the striking cops when the strike ended.

The events would propel Coolidge to the national stage; he would be elected Vice-President in 1920.

The cops eventually got higher pay, but it would be 20 years before they attempted to unionize again. Today it is illegal for police and other public safety personnel to strike, although there have been other incidents of “blue flu.”.

Through the efforts of the Fraternal Order of Police, salaries and work conditions are negotiated with municipalities.