The Boston police strike is one of the major events in American history. It occurred on 9 September 1919. During this year, Massachusetts alone experienced 396 strikes since many workers thought that it was the most appropriate way to induce changes in their places of work especially concerning their wages and the working environment. Most of them achieved this through the help of trade unions. The attempt of the Bostonian police to bring changes in their workforce led to major changes not only in the police force but also in the American community.
Several factors led to the strike. The police had genuine grievances, which they started expressing as early as 1917 but the government did not respond. One of their concerns was the poor pay that the police received. According to Richard, the average police pay was 29 cents per hour with new recruits receiving $2 per day (1947, p.148). The condition had remained the same for over sixty years and the Bostonian police force felt that it was time that the government hiked their pay. In addition, the police had to dig deep into their pockets for their uniform and weapons as a requirement. They received no pay for the time they spent testifying in courtrooms. The police also experienced one of the poorest working conditions in the American workforce. For the police, a normal working day would last for 10-13 hours and in some instances, they had to work for seventeen hours a day (Russell, 2005, p. 30). Additionally, if the schedule required night duty, they had to spend the night in filthy rooms infested with bugs and rodents. Russell points out that the rooms were overcrowded forcing the police to share beds among other facilities in the police quarters (2005, p.52). Failure to receive attention from their leaders, the police decided to join the labor union in affiliation with the American Federation of labor, which met great opposition from the government. The opposition aggravated the police leading to the Boston police strike in 1919.
Several people were actively involved in the police strike. Among them was the police commissioner, Edwin Curtis who strongly opposed the move by the police officers to join the labor unions. He argued that police officers were not employees but state officers thus had no right to join any trade union (Slater, 1997, p. 9). Moreover, the Massachusetts governor during that time, Calvin Coolidge played an important role in the strike. According to him, no one had the right to strike against public safety (Foner, 1988, p.45). His opposition as well as failure to respond to the police officers’ grievances contributed to the occurrence of the police strike. President Woodrow Wilson’s condemnation of the strike also gave the police more reasons to strike. He termed the move by the police an ‘intolerable crime against civilization’, which made the police, feel sidelined as well as undermined in the American community (Alther, 1999, p. 54). The other participants of the strike were the Boston civilians, the Massachusetts guards, and militia as well as the Federal troops who helped to calm the riots that resulted from the strike.
Following the police strike on 19 September 1919, Boston city remained defenseless leaving the residents to suffer from rampant criminal acts. There was massive destruction of property, violence, theft as well as gambling. In addition, several rape incidences occurred during that period. According to Alther, Boston city rang with an endless sound of false fire alarms, which not only caused tension among its residents but also fuelled many criminal acts in the city( 1999, p.62). Late in the evening, a crowd of nearly ten thousand people had gathered in the Scollay square. This led to more chaos in the city especially when someone smashed the window of a cigar store. In an attempt to curb the chaos in the city, Harvard students volunteered to patrol the streets but their efforts were fruitless. When things ran totally out of control, the mayor called in the town’s militia as well as the Massachusetts Guards who managed to calm the situation. It took three days to restore order in the city after which the governor brought in the federal troops. From his condemnation of the strike, Governor Coolidge emerged as a hero in American history (Slater, 2004, p.32). Following the end of the strike, the governor employed new police officers laying off all those who participated in the strike. The new officers received the benefits that their predecessors demanded.
The strike was a great move by the Bostonian police force since it led to major changes in the force. The government awarded the police better pay as well as improved working conditions though they do not have the right to join trade unions. However, it propagated many criminal acts in the city during the three days. We can attribute the occurrence of the crime to the American government for its failure to address the police officers’ concerns in time. If a similar strike occurred in a nearby city, the situation would not be very different from the Bostonian case. People would involve themselves in several criminal acts because the absence of the police would render the city defenseless.
In conclusion, the Boston police officers used the strike to force the government to address some of the problems that they encountered. The problems included low pay, poor working conditions as well as their right to join trade unions. The police officers who were actively involved in the strike lost their jobs paving way for new officers in the police force. The government addressed some of the concerns but their right to join trade unions remains a major concern up-to-date. Calvin Coolidge emerged as an American hero during the strike.
Alther, R.C. (1999). The Boston Police Strike of 1919. Indiana: Indiana University Press. 54-62.
Foner, P. S. (1988). History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Past War Struggles, 1918-1920. New York, NY: International Publishers. 40-62.
Richard, L. (1947). The Boston Police Strike of 1919. The New England Quarterly, 20(2), 147-168.
Russell, F. (2005). A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Strike. New York, NY: Beacon Press. 30-72.
Slater, J. E. (1997). Public Workers: Labor and the Boston Police Strike of 1919. Labor History, 30(1), 7-27.
Slater, J. E. (2004). Public Workers: Public Employee Unions, the Law and the State 1900-1962. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 13-38.