Strikers on parade shortly after the initial walkout October 9, 1912 – January 6, 1913

Strikers on parade shortly after the initial walkout October 9, 1912 – January 6, 1913. Strike was caused by a decrease in wages following a reduction in maximum working hours for women from 60 to 54 hours per week. Wikipedia

Labor Day in the Mohawk Valley

The first Monday in September is often associated with the end of summer and  barbecues, but the history of Labor Day has its roots in the labor movement. At a time in the late 1800s when American laborers worked long hours for little pay and few benefits, protests and strikes were the primary way for low-wage workers to be heard.

Rapid industrialization during and after the Civil War increased the demand for labor. In an effort to maximize profits, factories and mills offered workers dangerous work environments, low wages, and long hours. All of these factors led to the development of labor unions as a way to improve the working conditions for workers through collective bargaining.

The first Labor Day Parade was held on September 5, 1882, in New York City.

It was organized by the Central Labor Union who coordinated thousands of workers from a variety of industries to march in support of labor issues. On June 28, 1894, in an effort to gain the support of labor unions, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a national holiday. Even though Labor Day became a holiday, laborers continued their demands of fair pay and safe working conditions.

Labor struggles in the Mohawk Valley

  • The Little Falls Textile Strike of 1912-1913 was part of the national conversation on labor disputes when immigrant workers organized a walkout after reductions in pay. The Little Falls Historical Society Museum features an exhibit at the museum as well as a virtual exhibit that can be viewed online.
  • The Remington Arms Strike of 1914 in Ilion was the site of a significant strike involving around 2,000 workers and members of the United Mine Workers (UMW). Workers went on strike to demand better wages and safer working conditions. The strike lasted for several months and resulted in violent clashes between strikers and law enforcement. Eventually, the strike ended without significant concessions, but it drew attention to labor issues in the region.
  • Remington Rand Strike of 1936-1937 began after the union demanded information on possible plant closures, which the company refused. The company then employed tactics that became known as the “Mohawk Valley formula,” which was “a corporate plan for strikebreaking to discredit union leaders, frighten the public with the threat of violence, use local police and vigilantes to intimidate strikers, form puppet associations of ‘loyal employees’ to influence public debate, fortify workplaces, employ large numbers of strikebreakers, and threaten to close the plant if work is not resumed.”
  • Transportation Strikes in the Mohawk Valley before 1940 involved  railroad workers, teamsters, and other transportation workers engaged in strikes to demand better wages and working conditions.

These Mohawk Valley strikes, and the contributions of workers nationwide are commemorated on Labor Day and reflect the ongoing efforts of labor unions advocating for better working conditions, fair wages, and job security for their members.