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January 24th, 2024

Understanding Historic Union Strikes Helps Us Advocate for Injured Workers

Understanding Historic Union Strikes Helps Us Advocate for Injured Workers

Labor strikes illustrate the risks that workers take when they stand up for their rights. As plaintiffs’ lawyers representing union workers, we believe it’s crucial to understand this historical context to effectively advocate for workers who have been injured due to negligence in the workplace.

Labor strikes not only aim to improve wages and working conditions but also serve as a strong reminder of the need for legal protections for workers in the face of potentially dangerous situations. Two important labor strikes include the Great Steel Strike of 1919 and the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968. These strikes were so vital to the cause of workers’ rights that we have photos of them displayed in our conference room at Laffey Bucci D’Andrea Reich & Ryan.

The 1919 Steel Strike
The 1919 Steel Strike involved steelworkers across the country protesting low wages and grueling 12-hour workdays. More than 365,000 workers walked off the job, slowing production in one of the nation’s largest industries.
The steel companies responded swiftly. “They played on racial and ethnic stereotypes, fears of immigrants and the specter of Bolshevism to convince the public that the strikers were opportunists. They also tried to turn workers against one another, pitting immigrant workers against those born in the United States,” according to History.com.
The strike eventually failed, but the movement underscored the dangers faced by striking workers and further emphasized the need for legal advocates for injured workers.

The 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike
On Feb. 12, 1968, 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis began a strike to protest long workdays with no overtime pay and to demand improvements to dangerous working conditions, including properly functioning equipment. “A couple of weeks before the strike, workers’ dissatisfaction reached new heights when two men, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were gruesomely killed while on the job,” according to History.com. “Cole and Walker had taken shelter from rain in the back of their truck when it malfunctioned and both men were crushed to death.”

The city refused to compensate the families, the sanitation workers walked off the job, and more than 10,000 tons of trashed piled up. The Memphis strike drew the attention of Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP, leading them to broaden their focus on racial equality to include workers’ rights. Memphis “fatefully became the setting for [King’s} “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech and his assassination.

It’s important to note that these strikes weren’t solely related to construction workers but involved various industries. Yet each of these strikes played a crucial role in shaping the U.S. labor movement and demonstrated the hazards that workers could face in their fight for better conditions and fair treatment.

Jeff Laffey and his team proudly represent injured Union Workers and their Families. 

To read more about the 10 Major Labor Strikes throughout U.S. history, click here.