Category: Law Essay
Boston Police Strike of 1919

The Boston police strike went on September 9, 1919, after the officers returned from World War I. They were denied a right to form own trade union, wage increment and better working conditions. During the strike, Boston faced several nights of property damages, noises, and other lawlessness. However, public coordinating with state guards tried to restore peace in the city. Strikes had serious consequences, especially those touching state security organs. The aim of this research paper is to address the effects of a police strike in Boston.

Specifically, the paper provides a synopsis of the events leading up to the Strike, the main people involved in the strike on both sides, synopsis of the Strike itself and finally the prediction of what would happen if a strike were to happen today. In short, what could have been the implications of witnessing similar police strike in the city today?

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A Synopsis of the Events Leading up to the Strike

Several events led to the police strike. The police officers were dissatisfied with poor wages and working conditions over the decades. In order for their grievances to be met, they decided to submit an application to join the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which was later rejected. If they were allowed, they could have gained support from other unions in their negotiations for higher wages with the commissioner. The charter was requested on August 11, but Edwin Upton Curtis issued a general order forbidding the police officers from joining an organization or body from their department. He directed that such claims might trigger a conflict of interests between police officers and other members of the union.

Later on August 15, the police officers applied for an AFL charter through the Central Labor Union of Boston that welcomed the move. The Union denounced Curtis's decision that police should not unionize. Later, a meeting was held between the union and police officers. Curtis failed to come to the meeting and later he suspended eight members of the police union committee claiming that they violated the General Order.

Mayor Andrew James Peters decided to mediate the two sides of police units. He appointed James Storrow’s group that ended up recommending that Curtis and police should meet and have police union formed. In addition to that, the group stated that no action should be taken against suspended officers. Moreover, they should be reinstated in their positions. Later, four of Boston’s five newspapers back the police officers. Curtis went further to reject Storrow’s proposals revealing that he had personal interests in the matter.

On September 8, Curtis proceeded with the trials and found the suspended officers guilty. The police officers were dismissed from the police force. The rejected police union acted in parallel and ordered all police officers to vote. 1134 out of 1136 police officers voted in favor of a strike. The strike started on September 9, 1919, and it touched on three main issues such as poor wages, poor working conditions and protest against the commissioner’s denial for strike and union.

The Main People Involved in the Strike on both Sides

Several people were involved in the strike. On one side, there was the Boston police unit, which had a lot of backing from the Central Labor Union, James Storrow, who was heading the groups investigating police grievances, the 4 newspapers, New Hampshire Association of manufacturers and Boston Mayor Andrew James Peters. Peters played a key role in mediating the two sides in agreement. On the other side, there was Curtis, who was a police commissioner. He had great support from the AFL, state guards, and Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge. In the event of a strike, Coolidge assigned 100 members of the state metropolitan park police department to replace the striking police officers. 58 of them refused and he suspended them. AFL chief Samuel Gompers tried to postpone his trip to Europe and negotiate over the matter, but all ended in vain. In addition to that, Governor Calvin Coolidge had other supporters in the Central Labor Union such as “Diamond” Jim Timely who promised that a general strike would not be called to support the Boston police strike. Other newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Public Ledger in Philadelphia pointed out that the strike was illegal and the police officers should not only be sent home but also denied citizenship. They blamed Boston Mayor, Andrew Peters, and other individuals for allowing such an act to take place. They claimed that the mayor was incompetent and should not be elected for the second time.

President Woodrow Wilson speaking in Montana branded the police strike as the highest crime against humanity. He claimed that the police went to strike and left the city to the army of thugs and hooligans. However, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge sided with Mayor Peters and accused the American Federation of Labor of ignorance and poor performance. He claimed that police officers were just like other civil servants and therefore had cries, which should be put into consideration. This was echoed by the Ohio State Journal claiming that the officers should be remunerated well and taken care of. The strike had firm political effects on Coolidge who gained a lot of power by being reelected. In addition to that, he won the election with the help of landslide votes. Andrew Peters lost the mayoral seat of a republican contestant. This indicated that Curtis's side won the battle over the striking Boston police force.

A Synopsis of the Strike Itself

On September 9 at around 5.45 p.m., the Boston Police Department officers went on strike. The city had 1544 police officers. 1117 of them failed to report for work. Coolidge had to send state guards to replace the striking officers. However, they could not withstand the criminals and hooligans. Volunteers and 1000 students were hired to control the situation. Over the night of September 9 to 10, the city witnessed hooliganism and looting. The youths threw rocks to streetcars, street vendors and smashed several store windows before looting. The following morning, the mayor requested Governor Coolidge to provide additional 5000 men who later restored the situation. Curtis praised the Governor’s move and commented on the work of men.

However, the strike was not over, and the night of September 10-11 witnessed violence. Business people had to hire armed guards to discourage robbery or take advantage of the strike. Women had their handbags snatched. Gamblers played dice overtly given that nobody could arrest them. The incompetent hired guards fired guns recklessly claiming life. This triggered protests within Scollay Square, the center of theaters and amusement hall. In the process, seven men were killed worsening the situation further. Nobody knew what caused the riot. Nobody was aware of the crowd riots given that they did not support the strikers. Security analysts cited the crowd riot to be organized by hooligans targeting individuals’ assets.

During the daytime, schools and businesses worked normally, but during the night, riots broke out. The strike resulted in over 35000 dollars loss. Governor Coolidge dismissed meeting the police officers. Rather, he responded by calling them deserters and traitors to own land. On the other side, the police union retaliated by stating that they served in the US army with low wages, fought in Spain and returned. Now, they have been disowned by the disgraced section of leaders.

Through a telegram to labor convention, Curtis stated that he would decide on whether to reinstate the police officers. However, on September 13, he dismissed Mayor Peters’ request and went further to fire roughly 1100 officers before hiring 1574 new ones from the pool of World War I unemployed veterans. However, the members of United Garment Workers refused to sew uniforms for the new employees and suggested sacked officers be reinstated. The most embarrassing thing was that the new officers received higher wages, longer vacation and sick leave days. In addition to that, they were given pension plans and uniforms. These were similar grievances demanded by former and hired police officers. Initially, the fired officers received half of what new officers received as a starting salary. The newly recruited officers received 1400 dollars along with a pension plan. This reveals that Curtis had a business interest in the matter. The population of Boston had to incur the additional cost of over 472000 dollars to pay the state guards and police officers.

Prediction of What Would Happen if a Strike Were to Happen Today

Any strike involving security organs such as police officers, army and guards have inevitable social, economic and political consequences. In various instances, governments are even overthrown or suffer serious security bottlenecks. It is noted that terrorism, hooliganism, and robbery cases have advanced. Any police strike can consequently trigger terrorist acts in Boston city and neighboring towns. Moreover, robbers can take it as an opportunity to break into the banks and individual homes, business premises and other trading sites. Therefore, if police officers strike and no actions are taken immediately, the people will definitely blame the government.

It should be noted that Boston city is one of the busiest cities in the world. It houses several big companies such as Microsoft. Billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have investment premises in the town. Any police strike will trigger robbery and hence the investors shy away. This predicts a decline in economic performance that will harm not only the individuals but also the city. Therefore, immediate measures will definitely be taken to avert the strike notice. In addition to that, riots may erupt and cause many damages. This means that the government will take a quick action in case of any strike notice issued. Moreover, the situation when police officers claim for own rights cannot happen in today’s Boston. Rather, the police officers will be reinstated and penalties issued.

Those who believe in democracy cannot allow police officers to be denied own rights. They may propose proper remunerations and improved living conditions. This can trigger people like Curtis to lose jobs easily instead of police officers. Therefore, we predict that reasonable actions could have been taken in advance to avert the strike if it was to happen today. Days are gone when blame games were played, especially on matters pertaining to security.


While the Boston police strike proved disastrous both to government and the police officers, Unions should play a vital role in advising the conflicting parties about dialogue. The innocent public suffers from the strike. In addition to that, the city suffers from economic sabotage. This reflects that quick actions are essential in security matters. Chest thumping and force are unacceptable and future Curtis must know that dialogue is better than force. Therefore, it was essential for all parties to agree on a common option rather than engage in an unnecessary duel.

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