First Fight For 10-Hour Day
The first concerted drive
by labor in San Francisco was for a shorter work day. In 1860 the work
day was usually 12 hours. Laborers struck for a 10-hour day. They
were working from 6 a. m. to 6 p. m. spreading sand dumped at the foot
of California street by the cars from David Hewes steam paddy.
According to The Bulletin
the laborers argued that 10 hours a day is enough for any man to sweat.
The men who left the job were paid off.
Later, one of the leaders
for a shorter work day was General A. M. Winn, first mayor of Sacramento.
General Winn, California militia official, had been a carpenter and contractor
in Ohio and Mississippi before coming to California in 1849.
Having made a fortune in
California real estate, he gave money and time to the campaign for an eight-hour
day, which had been started by Alexander M. Kenaday San Francisco printer
and early president of the Eureka Typographical Union
Led the Parade
General Winn led the procession
in San Francisco on February 22, 1888, celebrating the passage of Californias
Enforcement of the eight-hour
law was complicated by hordes of jobless who moved into San Francisco at
the completion of the transcontinental railroad. For several years General
Winn, first president of the Mechanics State Council, which he and Kenaday
organized, provided an employment service for eight-hour men.
San Francisco first realized
that the idle were not jobless though lack of industry when in March, 1870,
a thousand men responded to an advertisement for 100 to clear Yerba Buena
Park, the sandy wastes which had once been Yerba Buena Cemetery. The 115
men hired worked themselves out of a job by evening, having cleared away
the trees and underbrush.
The park became the meeting
place of the jobless, who planned a new world.
Watching them, a printer
and newspaperman named Henry George concluded that there must be some connection
between the vanishing frontier, progress and poverty. Sympathetic to the
laboring man, he studied the depression-ridden seventies from the
editors desk of The Evening Post, which he had founded in 1871.
By December, 1875, George
had already published a pamphlet on his theories which resulted in the
book, Progress and Poverty, which ran into more than 2,000,000 copies.
theories had far less appeal to the average jobless man than those espoused
by Denis Kearney in 1877. Kearney did not coin the phrase, The Chinese
must go, but he made the most of it. He was a prosperous. Hayes Valley
drayman when he joined the Committee of Safety and dangled a hickory pick
handle from a leather thong fastened to his wrist.
The several thousand citizen
members of the pick-handle brigade had been recruited to help police
and militia quell sandlot rioters in threatened forays on the Pacific Mail
Steamship docks and Chinatown.
Many men suspected Kearneys
motives. Many others responded fiercely to his rabble rousing speeches,
written by Chester Hull, a newspaperman with a flair for incendiary phrases.
One of the; labor leaders
who opposed Kearney, was Frank Roney, Irish born man of wealth who had
fought for the Irish Republic before becoming a voluntary exile to America.
Now a naturalized citizen, a moulder by trade, Roney gave the same loyalty
to labor that he had given the Fenian cause.
Roney appeared on the sand
lots with Kearney just once. Then, following dramatic warnings of traitors
by Kearney, he put his hand on ,the agitators shoulder as he told the
crowd of 10,000, If there be one traitor who is ahead of all others it
is this man. If you follow him you will rue that day and your party will
In Roneys estimation, Kearneys
Workingmans Party of California left its impress for years afterwards
in having produced during its brief existence an inferior and more numerous
class of political bosses and blacklegs than had been produced in all the
preceding history of the city.
Although Roney had a wife
and two children who depended on him for livelihood, they stood second
to the cause of labor. In his fight to better conditions and wages for
seamen he worked from 5 a. m. to at least 6 p. m. each day as a moulder,
but organized the seamen in his spare time. One of his targets was the
crimps, the boarding house keepers who had supplied sea captains with
shanghaied crews since the days of the gold rush.
Roneys sense of organization,
his determination to cement the ranks of labor into closer and more powerful
unity, resulted in the Federal Trades and Labor Council, organized in 1885
with Roney as its first president.
He was working at a city
job, assistant to the city engineer, and most of the Council business was
conducted from the fireroom of the City Hall.
When the administration
changed and Roney lost his city job, he found himself blacklisted by every
foundry in San Francisco. Needing a job to feed his family, he gave up
his labor activities and moved to Vallejo.
The Closed Shop
1901 the closed shop issue became a matter of violence and bloodshed in
the San Francisco teamsters and waterfront strike.
Labor was bitter when Mayor
James D. Phelan sent police to protect strike-breakers. Phelan was
the son of a wealthy gold rush banker and financier. The closed shop issue
Some labor leaders, but
not all, concluded the only way to prevent a recurrence of Phelans action
was to elect a new set of city officers. Thus rose the Union Labor party.
When the organizers of the
Union Labor party asked Andrew Fureseth, a power in the sailors union and
City Front Federation, to take part in planned activities, he said the
Union Labor Party was a sad mistake and likely risen from resentment rather
than common sense. He would have nothing to do with them.
The Union Labor leaders
then met up with Abraham Ruef who had 18 years before been a starry-eyed
reformer, a believer in a better world. That was when he was a brilliant
University of California graduate at 19, class of 1883. Ruef crossed the
path of labor in 1901.
The most prominent man in
labor to be interested in the new party was Eugene E. Schmitz, president
of the Musicians Union. Schmitz and Ruef had been friends for 15 years.
Ruef and a fortune teller sold Schmitz on the idea of running for mayor.
most of Eugene Schmitz two terms as mayor of San Francisco the willingness
of his administration to be corrupted was equaled only by the willingness
of certain business interests to corrupt it.
Slipped In And Out
Ruef slipped in and out
of offices, suggesting his appointment as attorney for various corporations
while his intermediary on the Board of Supervisors shared the loot. Not
even the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906, could shatter the pattern
of corruption. After four years of graft prosecutions only Ruef served
time in San Quentin.
Fureseth, who had scorned
the whole idea of a grudge-born Union Labor party years before, carried
on in the same devoted, dedicated and tyrannical course to organize labor
established by Roney back in the seventies.
He worked for better conditions
aboard ships, finally saw the La Follette Seamens act become law in 1915.
By that time labor was rapidly
expanding. It was no longer a one man organization even in San Francisco.
Fureseth had become a symbol, unrelenting and vigilant.
Even when there was tranquillity
in labor circles Furuseth refused to relax.
Too much is being written
and spoken about peace, he said in his Norwegian accent. I never saw
peace anywhere in my life except in a graveyard. And it got disturbed there
every time anybody died.
October 10, 1955
Dolores Waldorf, member
of the California Historical Society and one-time editor of the Society
of California Pioneers Quarterly, is the author of numerous articles on
early California history. She is daughter of the late John Taylor Waldorf,
widely known newspaperman of his day, an associate of Fremont Older on
the old Bulletin, and who was on the editorial staff of The Call when she
first joined The Bulletins staff in 1921. She is now The
womens club editor.
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