New Orleans was the center of a pair of racially unified strikes that brought the city to a standstill and equality to the working class. After one strike in October, followed by another in November, it marked the first time Black and White workers carried out a strike together successfully.
The so-called “Triple Alliance” – comprised of the largely Black Teamsters, the Scalesmen, and the Packers – joined together on October 24, 1892 to strike and demand shorter work days, a pay increase, and a “closed-shop” policy to hire union workers for union jobs. Around 2,000 to 3,000 workers walked off their jobs and the local economy suffered.
The city’s Board of Trade resisted the strike and even threatened the use of a militia to break up the strike. But since the strikers didn’t fear the threats, the board finally agreed to sit down with the Scalesmen and Packers, but not the Black Teamsters. The Triple Alliance would not accept those terms and maintained their demands, pushing the board and the city to use divisive tactics to sow dissent and fear among whites in the city and the union but those efforts fell short.
A general strike took place on November 8 with the assistance of other unions across various fields. This strike was far more damaging than the initial one that took place in October, as electrical and transportation workers refused to show up for work and left the city in the dark.
The governor and the board began reporting that Blacks were attacking white people in the street which might have worked if the unions were split, but they remained a united front in spite of the opposition. After three days, the board relented to their demands, giving workers a raise, a 10-hour work day, but did not agree to the closed-shop policy.
Historians note that the racial harmony on display served the interests of whites as poor European immigrants were on equal footing with Black workers in the eyes of the elite and ruling class. Still, the strikes showed that the collaboration between the groups could move the needle forward in the labor movement in America.
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Little Known Black History Fact: New Orleans Strikes was originally published on blackamericaweb.com