Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chinese Workers Strike, 1867

From: "Nancy Ng Tam" ynt204@nyu.edu

... I am looking to verify the outcome of a strike against the Central Pacific Railroad by Chinese workers in 1867. Would you be able to point me to some archival/scholarly sources? Specifically, I want to verify whether the strike ended in a compromise or whether Charles Crocker ended up breaking the strike by starving out Chinese workers. ...

—Nancy Ng Tam, Archival Research Scholar, East Coast Asian American Art Project Archivist, Asian/Pacific/American Institute, New York University

15 Comments:

Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

44TH CONGRESS, 2d Session. SENATE. REPORT No. 689.
REPORT OF THE JOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO
INVESTIGATE CHINESE IMMIGRATION.
FEBRUARY 27, 1877
CHARLES CROCKER sworn and examined. [Complete Testimony, pp. 666-688.]
...

"Q. There seems to be some hostility which they have brought with them ?—A. Yes, Sir; when two different gangs of those men get into the same neighborhood they may clash, but by separating them there is no trouble. So far as the controlling of large bodies of laborers on works of the magnitude of the Central Pacific, we had one strike with the Chinese. We had then our maximum strength. I think that we very nearly approached 10,000 men on the work. The Chinese circulated a document among themselves, all through the camp, and on the next Monday morning they refused to come out. That was done on Saturday, and on Monday none of the laborers came out. It was a strike; they remained idle.

By Senator [A. A.] SARGENT:

Q. What was the occasion; a strike for higher wages ?—A. Yes, Sir; I think they were incited to this by emissaries from the other side who wished to keep us in the mountains while they were building the road over the plains. We always supposed they were incited to it by emissaries from the other side, although we never could prove it. If there had been that number of white laborers on that work in a strike there would have been murder and drunkenness and disorder of all kinds; it would have been impossible to have controlled them ; but this strike of the Chinese was just like Sunday all along the work. These men staid in their camps; that is, they would come out and walk around, but not a word was said, nothing was done; no violence was perpetrated along the whole line. I stopped the provisions on them, stopped the butchers from butchering, and used such coercive measures. I then went up there and made them a little war speech and told them they could not control the works, that no one made laws there but me. I talked to them so that they could comprehend what the rules and regulations were, and that if they did not choose to obey they could go away from the work, but under no circumstances would I give way to them. I gave them until the next Monday morning at six o'clock to come back, and told them that every man who went to work then should be forgiven for the week's strike, but that all others should be fined. We had a system of fines for men not coming out, keeping foremen and keeping horses at work when there were not enough laborers, and we charged the expenses of the horses and carts to the gang who failed to keep them employed. They well understood what fining meant for the week's idleness, and on Monday morning at six o'clock the whole country swarmed with them, and we never had so many working before or since as we had on that day. They returned peaceably to work."

1/17/2013 4:06 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

The Governor: The Life and Legacy of Leland Stanford,
by Norman E. Tutorow
Arthur H. Clark Co., © 2004


From Chapter 6:
"In June 1867, the Chinese railroad laborers did go on an eight-day strike. Charles Crocker was one of the speakers at the July Fourth Independence Day celebration in Sacramento when the subject of Chinese strikes came up.Crocker said he had just returned from the summit of the Sierra Nevada where he had made a “war speech to the Chinamen.” When the Chinese told him, “Eight hours a day good for white man; all the same good for Chinaman,” he rejected their demands for shorter workdays, and they, in no position to negotiate,went back to work on their old terms."

[footnote 127] Sac Union, Jul 6, 1867.Yen, “Chinese Workers and the First Transcontinental Railroad of the United States of America,” 131, cites this issue of the Union as the authority for the statement that CC withheld pay and food from the Chinese workers until they were forced into submission.There is not even an allusion to this cruelty in the Sac newspaper.

1/17/2013 4:13 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

One footnote lists the following as being primary sources about the strike,

Sacramento Union, July 1, July 3, 1867; Stockton Daily Independent, July 3, 1867; Daily Alta California, July 1, 1867. San Francisco Commercial Herald and Market Review, July 10, 1867

If you are able to gain access to these newspaper accounts, we would be most grateful if you could share what you find with us.

1/17/2013 4:16 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

We have not yet found any other detailed descriptions of the strike that seem reliable. The subject of Chinese railroad workers on the Central Pacific is a difficult topic to research as there are no first hand accounts by the workers, and the secondary literature has lots of misinformation.

1/17/2013 4:20 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Chris Graves" caliron@att.net

The strike was over hours worked. No one starved. Some workers got to an 8 hour day, some stayed at 10. I'd guess it was a draw.

1/17/2013 4:24 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Larry Mullaly" lmullaly@jeffnet.org

... The accounts of this episode are drawn from few sources. I give them below taken from the Collis P. Huntington Correspondence. In general the Chinese, as all railroad workers, were treated on the Central Pacific, with a very firm hand. They were not abused. In this strike, however, both sides were playing hard ball. The Chinese strike leaders were also threatening the use of force against anyone who broke ranks.


Here are the quotes:


Edwin Bryan Crocker [CPRR Director and Charles Crocker's brother] to Collis P. Huntington (CPRR Vice-President), June 27, 1867.

"We have commenced on the two miles just above Cisco [in the Sierra Nevada] and were pushing it when last Monday the Chinamen between Cisco and Strong's Canyon ... struck for $40 per month and 10 hours per day. We had recently raised the wages from $31 to $35. The truth is they are getting smart. As I have written before there is a scarcity of laborers and the prospect has been that we were not likely to get what we wanted. Who had started up the strike we don't know, but it was evidently planned and concerted. We cannot submit to it for they would soon strike again, and we would always be in their power. ...

The only safe way for us is to inundate this state and Nevada with laborers: Freedmen [blacks], Chinese, Japanese, all kinds of labor so that men come to us for work instead of our hunting them up. They will all find something to do and a surplus will keep wages low. It is our only remedy for strikes."

[continued below]

1/17/2013 5:21 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Edwin Bryan Crocker to Collis P. Huntington (CPRR Vice-President), June 28, 1867.

"This strike of the Chinamen is the hardest blow we have had here. If we get over this without yielding, it will be all right hereafter. But it is well to do what you can to get [black] laborers sent here from the East."


Edwin Bryan Crocker to Collis P. Huntington (CPRR Vice-President), July 2, 1867.

"The strike among the Chinese is all over and they were glad to go to work again. Their agent stopped supplying them with goods and provisions and they really began to suffer. None of us went near them for a week. Did not want to exhibit anxiety. Then Charles [Crocker, Construction Superintendent] went up, and they gathered around him and he told them that he would not be dictated to — that he made the rules for them and not they for him, that if they went to work immediately they would merit the fines usually returned out of their wages when they did not work. But if they refused, he would pay them nothing for June. They tried hard to get some change as to the terms of a days work or an advance of even 25c per month. Not a cent more would he give them. The great majority gave right up when they found that he was firm, a few [strike leaders] threatened to whip those who went to work and burn their camps, but Charley told them that he would protect them and his men would shoot down any that attempted to do the laborers any injury. He had the sheriff posse come up to see that there was no fighting.

By this standing firm we prevent any future strikes. The fact is that they make $10 a month more on the RR than by mining and they have never done so well as since we gave them work, So that matter has been got along with all safe."


A note regarding the "Agent": The Chinese were not directly hired by the railroad, but contracted through a third party who provided them with food and supplies, deducting this from their wages. It was likely that if the workers failed to perform, payments to the contractors by the railroad would be reduced. It was therefore in the contractors interest to induce the laborers to return to work. ...

—Larry Mullaly

1/17/2013 5:22 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "John Snyder" wem@onetel.com

I would suggest you read the book, Empire Express.

—John Snyder, White Ensign Models

1/18/2013 12:28 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Glenn G. Willumson" gwillumson@arts.ufl.edu

The strike is mentioned in letters from E.B. Crocker to Collis Huntington on June 27, 1867 and July 10, 1867 (by which time it has ended). From my transcriptions I don't see any mention of the specific details about how the strike ended, but the two letters do provide some context. The letters can be found in the Collis P. Huntington Papers which are available on microfilm. ...

—Glenn Willumson

1/18/2013 12:33 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman" wendellhuffman@hotmail.com

I would add one additional reference to those given by Larry: In the Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Emigration, US Congress Senate 44th Congress, 2nd Session (1877), Sen. Report 689, Charles Crocker expressed his belief that the strike had been instigated by agents of the Union Pacific trying to delay the Central Pacific's construction across the Sierra. Given the context of the "contest" between the CP and the UP to get the most Pacific railroad miles, this is quite believable. That contest began in July 1866 when Congress lifted the restriction on how far east the Central Pacific could build. In 1867 both companies had "spies" watching the progress of the competitor. The CP was reporting to the press that the work in the Sierra was much more difficult than it was, and predicting that progress would be slower than expected, in an effort to lull the Union Pacific into thinking they needn't hurry. And it would have been to the UP's ultimate advantage to slow the CP as much as possible. One other reason for thinking there was more to the strike than wages or conditions is the fact that the CP had just increased wages and they were paying more than the mines for Chinese labor.

—Wendell

1/18/2013 12:40 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Newspaper project

California Newspapers

Sacramento Union, July 1, 1867

Sacramento Union, July 3, 1867

Daily Alta California, July 1, 1867

1/18/2013 12:59 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

California Digital Newspaper Collection > Daily Alta California > 3 July 1867

BY STATE TELEGRAPH.
Knd of the Chinese Laborers Strike—The Movement Instigated by Designing White Men.
SACRAMENTO, July 2nd [1867].—Charles Crocker, Superintendent of tho Central Pacific Railroad, who returnad last night from the work at Summit and Truckee River, reports that with exception of one or two gangs, all the Chinamen have resumed work. No increase of pay, except increase made before the strike or decrease in time, been allowed them. We have not learned whether this resumption of work by Chinamen will stop orders sent East for several thousand freedmen, but presume not, as the Company can put on any number of hands thoy may be able to prooure. The foundation of this strike appears to havo been a circular, printod in the Chinese language, sent among them by designing persons for the purpose of destroying their efficiency as laborers. ...

All the Gang Resume Work— ...
CISCO, July 2d [1867].—the Chinese laborers resumed work yesterday on the Pacific Railroad, from one end to the other. Nothing was conceded to them by the Railroad Company. They work now with greater energy than before the strike. ...

1/18/2013 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Nancy Ng Tam said...

Thank you so very much for taking the time to help me with my reference request! I am so thankful to you for all of the great primary and secondary sources you've all been able to suggest, and so quickly too! I deeply appreciate this.

1/22/2013 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related discussion.

3/01/2013 9:13 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See, When Chinamen Would Strike.

3/11/2013 11:51 AM  

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