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|Indianapolis Street Car Strike|
Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company
Indiana National Guard
|Date||October 31, 1913âNovember 7, 1913|
Declaration of martial law
Wage increases for employees
Some union member jailed
The Indianapolis Street Car Strike of 1913, the Indianapolis Police Mutiny of 1913, and the 1913 Indianapolis Riots began as a workers strike by the union employees of the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company and occurred during November 1913. The company was responsible for public transportation in Indianapolis, the capital city of the U.S. State of Indiana. The strike coincided with the week of public elections, and the strike was politically charged. Riots broke out across the city when non-union workers were brought in to run the street cars to provide transportation during the election. Numerous workers were injured, and four people were killed. The city police were unable to bring the situation under control and violence increased and strikers began to harass state workers and public officials. Governor Samuel Ralston responded by calling out the state's entire Guard Force and put the city under martial law.
On November 6, a mob surrounded the Indiana Statehouse demanding the army leave the city and threatening more violence. They demanded that the Governor call a special session of the legislature to meet their strike demands. Ralston addressed the crowd promising concessions if the workers would return to the street cars. His impassioned speech is credited with breaking the strike, but the Democratic party leaders may have also put pressure on the Union to end the strike. After several days of peace, the army withdrew from the city. The Indiana General Assembly met later that month began to pass a series of bills that were part of the progressive movement platform begin advocated. The laws included Indiana's first minimum wage laws, regular working hours, a major increase in workplace regulations, and funding projects aimed at improving the city's tenement slums.
Beginning with the rapid industrial growth that began in Indiana during the Gas Boom of the late 19th-Century, labor unions began to form in the state aimed at increasing wages and providing other benefits to workers through collective bargaining. In 1892 the street car workers had launched a short-lived strike in Indianapolis, the company offered small concessions, and the workers returned to work without unionizing. The Indianapolis Street Railway Company had been unionized in 1899, and in August 1913 union leaders began an attempt to unionize Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company, the primary public transportation company in the city. The 900 workers of the company were generally paid much less and worked longer hours than the union workers of the smaller transportation company, and were a prime target for union organizing efforts. Many workers began to join the union, the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America.
The company feared the unionization attempt and hired agents to follow and spy on the union leaders. The company armed its agents, and the Union responded by attacking them. Tensions quickly grew and on October 31, 1913, the pro-union workers attacked the company. During the night they attacked workers who refused to join the union, injuring and harassing many. The following day 65 crews of workmen appeared for duty, despite the union's attempt to force them into action. The strikers responded by blocking tracks, harassing the workers, and demanding that their union be recognized by the company. They vandalized street cars, destroying six, cut the overhead cables, and threatened passengers, to scare away business. A police squad was put together to escort repairmen to fix the overhead cables, but they were soon surrounded by the strikers, and were stoned with bricks and beaten with bats, forcing them to flee.
The strikers' harassment reached such a level they were able to force a shutdown of the urban central hub, which was a primary transportation hub for the entire state, causing widespread disruption of public transportation. Thus, the union was able to enforce a de facto strike against the company.
As more employees left the company to join the union out of fear, the company began to bring in 300 professional strikebreakers from the Pinkerton Agency in Chicago to operate the street cars. The police escorted the men from Indianapolis Union Station to the company's maintenance barns where many of the street cars were parked. The police had to break a path through the strikers to allow the strikebreakers in. Despite the massive vandalism and violence, only twenty arrests were made on the day. The police began to refuse to battle the mob, and that afternoon Mayor of Indianapolis Samuel Shank informed Governor Samuel Ralston that the situation was growing beyond what he could control, and requested that Sheriff Hyland bring in more men.
The county sheriff deputized two hundred men to ride the street cars and protect the workers, but as the rioters began to target the cars and to injure and kill the workers, the greatly outnumbered police began to stop showing up for duty. On November 3, a pro-union group attacked the company headquarters. At least twenty-five shots were fired, a taxi driver was killed, and several others were injured. The president of the company attempted to flee to the statehouse for protection, but as he exited the building, rioters began throwing bricks at him from the roof. He was struck several times before reaching the statehouse and hospitalized with severe injuries, but he recovered. After two days of protecting the cars, less than fifty policemen remained on duty in the city, meanwhile the strike had degenerated into a city-wide riot. Several policemen resigned when they were ordered to protect the street cars. Shank supported their decision and again asked the governor for support. The company shut down operations and refused to restart them until adequate protection could be provided. The police stepped up their attempt to put more men on the street cars, but another twenty-nine officers resigned; because the force was so short on men, the sheriff refused their resignation and put them on other duties.
Under the terms of its contract with the city, the company could not cease operations. A lawsuit was brought against the company in order to revoke its contract or to force it to resume operations. The first court hearing was held on November 4, with the result being that the judge put the case on hold until the strike could be resolved. The case was later dropped.
On November 5, roving bands of pro-union men began vandalizing the city, burning street cars, harassing public officials, and effectively shutting down the much of the city in the worst violence of the strike. Over 8,000 rioters flooded Illinois Street, lighting fires, destroying public property, and attacking people. What police that showed up were sent to protect public buildings. Another group was sent to protect the company headquarters. There they attempted to move the street cars into their barns to protect them from being vandalized. When the mob realized what was being done, they attacked the police who responded to the rioters by clubbing them. The mob fled, and the police resumed their attempt to move the cars only to have the mob renew the attack. Numerous injuries were reported, including among the policemen. The mob soon overpowered the police and forced them to flee. The strike and riots coincided with the week of public elections, and many Republicans accused the union leaders of trying to prevent their voters from reaching the polls. The riots made national news and public leaders began to consider them an embarrassment to the state.
After the violence of November 4, Governor Ralston instituted martial law to protect the city during the election period and to force an end to the strike. He mobilized all 2,200 men of the Indiana National Guard, assembling them in the city's armory and in the basement of the Indiana Statehouse. He ordered them to patrol the streets beginning on November 5. Companies of troops were armed at setup to protect the important areas of the city.
On November 6 an angry mob began to surround the Indiana Statehouse, leaders issued a series of demands to the governor. They wanted him to order the guard to leave the city, call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly, and have their grievances addressed by legislation. If the governor refused, they threatened more violence. Ralston, escorted by armed guardsmen, exited the statehouse and spoke to the mob from the steps of the building. He delivered a speech promising to withdraw the troops, negotiate with the union leaders, and draft legislation to reform working conditions. In exchange the strikers had to return to work and prove their good faith. His speech calmed the situation and the crowd began to disperse.
On November 7, Ralston called a meeting with company and union leaders to begin negotiations to resolve the strike. The final solution was that all workers who had not been involved in violence could return to work, the company would raise wages by five percent, recognize the union, and guarantee a minimum weekly salary. The union and company would later submit all grievances to the Public Service Commission for arbitration, and it was agreed that their decisions would be final. The arrangement was submitted to a workers' vote and was approved unanimously, ending the strike at 6:00 pm.
The strikebreakers were escorted out of the city by the national guard on November 8, leaving by train to return to Chicago. Elections were held on November 9 without incident, after which the national guard was demobilized. Sheriff Hyland charged 33 officers with insubordination on November 12. The police threatened a strike of their own, and with the support of Mayor Shank and a petition that received several thousand signatures, the police were permitted to retain their jobs. Sheriff Hyland promptly resigned after 29 years on the force. The company and union submitted their grievances to the Public Service Commission on November 14; the Commission generally ruled in favor the business and found that many of the workers being fired were responsible for much violence, and several were jailed. The strike had lasted eight days, four men had been killed, several innocent bystanders shot, and hundreds were injured by the rioters.
Wages were increased from 21 cents to 28 cents per hour for the workers, and all were guaranteed a minimum of $45 per month. For his inability to control the situation, Indianapolis Mayor Shank was compelled to resign from office on November 28 after considerable pressure was put on him.
When the General Assembly convened, Ralston proposed several acts aimed to improve working conditions for many workers in the state. Among the laws he advocated, and the Assemmbly passed, were acts banning the sale of narcotic drugs for the first time, a minimum wage, and free vaccinations for several prevalent diseases. Ralston also successfully lobbied for funds to provide running clean water, childrenâs playgrounds, and several other improvements to the living conditions of the urban poor.
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