1st successful 8-hr strike/Navy Yard strikes

Navy Yard, Washington, DC
Washington, DC, US

Category: Labor Struggles/History

Used in the following map:

DC Labor Map

Federal employees conducted 1st successful strike anywhere for 8 hr day.

Back on the northwest shore of the river sits the Washington Navy Yard, which saw a great strike for a ten-hour day that began on July 31st, 1835. Strikes effected most Federal Navy Yards during this year, and coincided in Philadelphia with a General Strike. Many of the strikes were inspired by the “10 Hour Circular”, produced by artisans in Boston, and which spread down the coast. During the strike at Washington Navy Yard, three-quarters of the men employed at the Yard walked out.

“Snow Storm” riots
The strike very much had a darker side, however, as it coincided with what came to be known as the “Snow Storm” race riot that stretched into early Au-gust, so named because the riot eventually came to target Beverly Snow, a well-known Black restaurateur. In the context of a public backlash against the growing popularity of abolitionist sentiment, the strike took on a notably racial dimension. According to Michael Shiner, a Black slave leased out to the Navy Yard by his master, part of the impetus for the strike was that Isaac Hull, Commandant of the Yard (and already much-disliked by the men of the Yard), had hired a crew of Black caulkers from Baltimore to work on a frigate being constructed there. Some accounts claim that the white workers felt that the caulkers were being brought in to break their already-planned strike, while others cite a more basic jealousy that the free Blacks were getting the good paying jobs.
Indeed, in 1838, Baltimore’s Black caulkers formed a Caulkers Association, a true labor organization that successfully bargained with Baltimore’s shipyard owners. “Caulkers were paid very well and were seldom refused wage increas-es since the Association monopolized the market,” wrote Bettye C. Thomas in the Journal of Negro History (1974). “They were also able to dictate the condi-tions under which they would work.” Among those Baltimore caulkers in the mid 1830s was one Frederick Douglass.
- Fhar Miess