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Washington Square Park

Woodbury Blvd
Rochester, NY, US

Category: Labor Struggles

Used in the following map:

Rochester Labor History eMap

This land was donated to the village of Rochesterville in 1822. On May 30, 1892 the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was unveiled with Frederick Douglass, President Harrison, and Governor Flower on hand for the festivities. Since that time, Washington Square Park has been the site of many labor rallies and demonstrations. For instance, on March 5, 1930 several thousand workers gathered here to demand jobs. The Rochester Building Trades converged on the park on May 16, 1990 to protest the non-union hiring practices of contractor Fluor Daniels. The Communication Workers of America staged several rallies here during their successful 1996 struggle with Rochester Telephone Company in. In June1999, area workers rallied here in support of SEIU 1199 members who had been fired from the Nortonian Nursing Home.
The largest demonstrations, however, occurred in 1946. On May 28, fifty thousand Rochester workers walked off the job in a one-day general strike. Two weeks earlier, on May 15, the city manager had summarily discharged 489 city workers for joining a union. The next day, 500 workers attended a protest meeting at Carpenters Hall and marched to City Hall; that night both the AFL and CIO central labor bodies held emergency meetings.
The following week police carried out mass arrests of pickets at Dewey Avenue and Felix Street, near the Department of Public Works, charging them with disorderly conduct. On the evening of May 23 a mass meeting was held at Washington Square Park to protest the arrests.
By May 24, trash collection had come to a virtual standstill. That evening, at an open meeting of the Central Trades and Labor Council, the joint labor strategy committee was authorized to take whatever action it saw fit. The 10 PM deadline passed without a response. On May 28 many factories did not open. The entire clothing industry was shut down by 13,500 striking members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. Throughout the day pickets under the direction of AFL and CIO leaders were sent from a rallying point at Carpenters Hall to strategic points around the city. Taxi drivers refused to work. Movie houses closed when projectionists refused to cross picket lines. However, at the request of the joint strategy committee, union waitresses remained on the job as restaurants as well as hotels and food deliveries were exempted from the strike. Restaurants and department stores were thronged with idled workers.
After 22 hours, the strike resulted in complete victory for labor: the discharged workers regained their jobs, the City recognized municipal workers' right to organize, and charges against all those arrested were dropped.
That night organized labor kicked off the Memorial Day holiday with the largest Central Trades and Labor Council meeting ever held. Though the municipal workers had to fight to win their first contract, organized labor had won the battle for the right of public employees to organize in unions of their choice. Labor was able to hold its head up in Rochester. However, it had taken a general strike to achieve this victory.


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