Labor dispute

Milwaukee’s deadly transit strike

A brief strike in 1934 paralyzed the city's transit network and triggered mass rioting. Carl Swanson illustration

A brief strike in 1934 paralyzed the city’s transit network and triggered mass rioting. Carl Swanson illustration

A Milwaukee transit strike 81 years ago resulted in three successive nights of rioting, massive property damage, scores of arrests, widespread injuries, and the death of a young man. It is one of the most significant labor disputes in Milwaukee history.

At stake was union representation for 4,700 employees of the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co., the giant utility supplying the city with both electric power and mass transit. It ended with a union victory that helped pave the way for further labor inroads in the city. (more…)

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The Bay View tragedy

In May 1886, state militia soldiers fired on protestors during a labor dispute at the North Chicago Rolling Mill in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood. Carl Swanson illustration

In May 1886, state militia soldiers fired on protesters during a labor dispute at the North Chicago Rolling Mill in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. Carl Swanson illustration

Milwaukee’s first large-scale labor action started on May 1, 1886, and culminated in violence and death four days later.

The demand for an eight-hour working day was the key issue. At the time a typical work day was 10 or 12 hours and, often, six days a week. By May 3rd, 10,000 Milwaukeeans were idle, either on strike or locked out by employers who shut down in the face of escalating violence.

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