[May 4, 1886 (New York Times)]
Initiating the Eight-Hour Fight with Broken Heads.
Fiery Speeches Incite Lumbermen and Others to Acts of Violence-
The Freight handlers’ Demands.
Chicago May 3. – the eight-hour movement spilled its first blood today, and Joseph Votjek, a lumber shover 18 years old, was fatally wounded, and a dozen more strikers with bullet holes in their bodies, represented the result of the first encounter. There was a collision at McCormick’s Reaper Works, between a mob of 7,000 or 8,000 Anarchist workmen and tramps, maddened with free beer and free speech, and a squad of policemen. More than 500 shots were fired and hundreds of windows in the works were stoned. There are broken heads and bruised bodies all through the lumber district tonight but the downtrodden masses have risen and had their fun. The talk of storming McCormick’s works started early in the morning among the thousands of ignorant Anarchistic lumbermen who have been on a strike since Friday night. The sole reason for the animosity against the reaper works was that it was expected that the men there would work 109 hours instead of demanding 8. Half of men were induced by threats and arguments to stay away from the works this morning, but the other half, numbering 700, went to work. During the day the eight-hour system was adopted by the company and the men at work were told that they could quit at 2:30 P.M. today and call it a days work. But while this peaceful solution of what little difficulty there was being reached the hard working. Anarchists outside were rousing the lumbermen who had no early interest in the McCormick negotiations, to a pitch of frenzy by incendiary speeches and bad beer. Over and over again the suggestion was made to “storm the factor,” but each time cooler heads held the men in check for the time being.
At 1 o’clock a great mob, howling drunk, was gathered on the railroad tracks on the prairies at Blue Island Avenue and Wood Street. From the tops of freight cars various speakers addressed the crowd, hundreds of whom wore a bit of re ribbon in their buttonholes. Fritz Schmidt, a Socialist from the Central Labor Union, urged the men to strike fro liberty. This could be done with the revolver, the bludgeon, dynamite, and the torch. “On to McCormeck’s” he said, “and let us run every one of the damned scabs out of the city.”
“It is they who are taking the bread from you, your wives, and your children. On to them blow up the factory, strike for your liberty. This could be done with the revolver, the bludgeon dynamite, and the torch. “On to McCormeck’s,” he said, “and let us run every one of the damned ‘scabs’ out of the city.”
“It is they who are taking the bread from you, your wives, and your children. On to them, blow up the factory, strike for your freedom and if the armed murderers of the law interfere shoot them down as you would the ‘scabs.’ Revolution is the only remedy. Do not be afraid- arm yourselves. Use the torch and protect your rights. Be men. Arm yourselves and get what rightfully belongs to you.”
“On to McCormick’s,” cried the mob, and a number began moving in that direction, but were called back by several of the cool-headed strikers, who took Fritz down from the car and held him to get out of the vicinity. Just then the factory bell rang, and the mob, moved by a common impulse, started on a run toward the big gates which face Oakley Avenue. It was a race of only twob locks and the head of the mob reached the gates just as the men began to come out. In the run such of the mob as was not already provided armed itself with stones. When the men walked out of the gates the stones began to fly.
The men dodged the missiles as best they could, and ran while their fellow workmen, who were still in the yard, retreated to the shops. The stones flew thick and fast; and above the mad roar of the mob rose the crash of breaking glass as the windows went in. Fifty men and boys swept in through the gates and in a flash looted the gatekeeper’s house of everything there was in it. The company has kept a dozen guards at the works ever since the strike, a few weeks ago and these, when the mob reached the gates, fired their revolvers in the air, hoping to frighten the attacking party off. The strikers laughed at this and amused themselves by pelting the guards with stones till they too retired. Then they followed them up and began battering sown the doors with crowbars. At this moment a patrol wagon loaded with officers was seen approaching.
“Kill the police,” cried a hundred voices. The wagon dashed up Blue Island Avenue, the horses urged into a mad gallop. Right into the thick of the crowd they rode with a crutch that could not be checked by the mob.
Showered with stones and bricks, the officers crouched low in the wagon which turned sharply off the avenue and ran down toward the gate. As the wagon drew up before the gate the policemen jumped off and drawing their revolvers and leveling them at the approaching men, held them at bay. For a moment had entered the yards got out the best way they could. Then the cry of “Shoot them!” was raised. The crowd again advanced a short distance and pelted stones and other missiles. The 12 officers stood in the centre of the prairie and were splendid targets for the missiles of the mob. For 10 minutes they were kept busy dodging the stones, when the crowd got tired of it and pulled revolvers. It seemed as if the majority of them were armed and revolvers of every sort flashed in the sun. A volley was poured into the little band of 12 policemen the patrol in the meantime standing inside the yards of the factory. Occasionally when the rioters got dangerously close, a volley was fired by the police, but the officers generally shot to scare and not to kill. They carried themselves throughout the riot in an admirable manner. One stray shot struck the boy Joseph Votjek in the groin. Shots were flying back and forth, but the strikers were bad marksmen, and though they were observed to take deliberate aim at the 12 brave policemen, the officers escaped unhurt. More police were summoned and until they arrived the 12 held the mob at bay. It is known that at least a dozen men were wounded and some quite seriously, but their friends carried them off. When reinforcements reached the ground the police formed and by a determined effort, scattered the mob. Once broken, the men fled in every direction. A dozen were captured and taken to the police station and locked up on the charge of riot. Many of McCormick’s workmen were assaulted and slightly injured. Patrolman Casey was sent to Vojtek’s house to tell his family he was injured. There he was surrounded by a mob and a rope brought out to hang him. A detail of police came to his rescue just in the mick of time.
A guard of 21 men has been established at the First Infantry Armory and will be kept there night and day till this trouble is at an end. The reserve police force of the city can be placed under arms in less than an hour. The outbreak today was unexpected as far as its location was concerned.
The railroad officials who expected that their striking freight handlers would report for duty this morning were generally disappointed, though every road except the Wisconsin Division of the Northwestern was able to handle freight at 7 o’clock, and kept it up all day. The work was stared by 40 office men from the local office here, as many more from the general office in Milwaukee and 125 men picked up wherever the company could find them. Seventy-five of the railroad’s “special agents,” under the charge of S.B. Wood, the chief detective force of the road, and 6 uninformed policemen stood guard over the 200 men handling freight. The special agents were armed with double-action revolvers, which Detective Wood carefully loaded himself. The checking and receiving clerks were office men familiar with the work, but the truckmen were green and awkward and made pretty slow work of it. The 120 strikers marched by the freight stations where the men were working several times, and in the course of the day induced 46 of the new men to quit work. The company has fitted up dining and sleeping rooms in one of the stations for the men. The 220 men on the Wisconsin Division of the Northwestern did not report for duty, but most of them hung around the station all day. Superintendent Chyler says new men will be put on in their places in the morning if they do not come to work. Of the 180 Lake Shore freight handlers 40 went to work this morning. The remainder said they were willing to work, but were afraid of violence. The 65 men in the out freight station presented a petition for an increase of pay, but said nothing about eight hours. Pending a reply the men went to work with the promise that they continue until driven out by force or receive some strong representation from committees of the other roads.
A committee from the Wabash strikers tried to induce the 65 to quit work, but failed ignominiously. All the Wabash men were out. The company picked up 60 men to take their places, but 80 of these quit work as soon as they found what they were doing. The Illinois Central’s men worked quietly all day, waiting to hear what reply the company would make to their demand for eight hours’ work and ten hours’ pay. At 5 o’clock General Superintendent Jeffrey assembled them together and made them a speech refusing the demand in the course of which he said that during the last three months and three weeks the earnings of the company had decreased $375,642, as compared with the earnings of the same period last year. By the end of April the decrease would have reached $400,000, and in all probability before the end of the year, through labor disruptions and disorganized trade, the decease would amount to $800,000. Nearly every other road had experienced a decease of from 10 to 20 per cent in its earnings. The laboring classes, therefore, in view of these considerations had struck at the wrong time. The only outcome of this movement was that they would remain out, lose money, injure their families, and return to their old places at the same rate. The men listened quietly to Mr. Jeffrey’s remarks, though they saw at once what the reply of the company was. When he had finished, all the men, to the number of 150, quit work, marched over to the headquarters of the Freight Handlers’ Union and joined that organization. The Michigan Central’s men remained at work, and will not go out before Wednesday night when the company has promised to reply to the demand for an advance of 25 cents a day of 10 hours. The Baltimore and Ohio freight handlers worked along quietly, having given the company till Friday to reply to a demand for higher wages.
About 75 percent of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy’s men were at work and the company received and handled an enormous amount of freight at the out station. No attempt was made to do business at the two other stations. A committee of five from the strikers got inside the station and tried to persuade the men to quit work. They were thrown out and two of them arrested. The Chicago and Alton had seven or eight men at work in the freight house, and managed to get a little of the goods at the depot delivered to the carriers. To protect these few men 25 police, special and otherwise, were kept in the vicinity of the depot all day.
Ninety section men employed at this end of the Galena division of the Northwestern struck this morning because the company would not increase their wages from $1.25 to $1.50 per day. Fifty men, mostly engaged in relaying tracks in the old Milwaukee and St. Paul yard on Goose Island did not go to work this morning. Kegs of beer were opened among them and the men concluded that no work ought to be done in the yard. So they spiked the switches and when Michael Schwartz, one of their number interfered beat him badly about the head. After that not a wheel was turned in the yard all day. No police were on the ground.
The managers of all the roads running into this city today met and discussed the eight hour movement as far as the railroads are at present affected by it. It was unanimously resolved that all the roads centering in the city should act in concert; that no reduction in hours or an increase in wages be granted at this time the business and condition of the roads being such that neither concession could be made: that all will refusing to go to work tomorrow morning will be promptly discharged and new men put in their places, and that the authorities be requested to give the roads such protection as will enable them to catty on their business.