From MassMoments: Boston Police Vote to Unionize on August 15, 1919

MassMoments reminds us that on this day August 15, 1919 policemen in the City of Boston seeking better wages and working conditions voted to unionize. Wages for the policemen were meager – about 29 cents an hour – and stagnant for decades. Their workday was long and they worked 13 out of every 14 days. They paid for their own uniforms and boots – the city provided a hat, coat and raincoat. Appeals to the police commissioner for better working conditions from the force were ignored. Political overtones were stark. Commissioner Edwin Curtis a member of Boston’s conservative Yankee elite expressed little sympathy for the mostly Irish Catholic police force. Like many Boston Yankees, he resented the growing political power of immigrants and the Democrats they elected to office. He believed that the police and most particularly the Irish were undermining the social order. Labor militancy fanned the fears of the times. When the force of 1,117 men walked off the job the next day – unruly, mischievous and simple disorder descended into mob madness. Finally, on the third day Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge deployed federal troops – becoming a “hero” to the middle and upper classes who saw his actions as a “defense of democracy.” His declaration: “There is no right to strike against the public safety anywhere, any time” brought him national attention. Within two years Coolidge would become the Vice- President of the United States and later President.

On this day…
…in 1919, Boston policemen seeking better wages and working conditions voted to form a union. The Commissioner of Police forbid them to unionize. Tensions escalated until, three weeks later, 19 officers were suspended for their union activities. Three quarters of the oldest police department in the country went on strike. Within hours, street gangs had taken over the downtown. For two days, vandals, looters, and rapists ruled the streets. Order was restored only with the arrival of 4,700 bayonet-carrying soldiers. In Boston and around the country, the striking police were blamed for allowing the riots to occur. President Woodrow Wilson denounced the strike as “a crime against civilization.”

Read the full article here at