11 American Protests That Helped Shape The Occupy Wall Street Movement

Veteran march

Photo: Robert Johnson

The Occupy movement that began in late September has seeped to all corners of the globe.

But before OWS, the US built a long and storied reputation as a place where the dissatisfied stood up and demanded attention.

Some of theses strategies have been adopted by “Occupy” today. Not always successful and generally well suppressed many practices here are being used today in cities across the nation.

Here are 11 uprisings you may never have heard of that helped changed the America.

In the mid-1830s the 'Lowell Mill Girls' were striking before the practice had a name

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was the strike that all others have since been modelled on

The first nationwide uprising of workers started in Chicago in July of 1877 when employees at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Martinsburg, West Virginia walked off their job sites to show their dissatisfaction in a 10% wage cut.

The Great Strike soon spread like wildfire through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Cincinnati.

The protest lasted nearly two months until federal troops were sent in to combat the workers.

Source: Encyclopedia of Chicago

The 1894 Pullman Strike brought black and white workers together in a cause

On May 11, 1894, more than 100,000 workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company factory walked out on their jobs after failed attempts at stopping dropped wages and 16-hour workdays.

The workers eventually won the support of the American Railway Union (ARU) and what began in Chicago soon took down railroad traffic nationwide.

Two months later, the federal government deemed the boycott activity illegal and U.S. Marshals and 12,000 Army troops were sent to break up the protest claiming that the strike interfered with the U.S. Mail delivery system. The strike resulted in the deaths of 13 workers and injuries of 57.

Source: Encyclopedia of Chicago and Wikipedia

In 1932 17,000 veterans marched on Washington and Gen. MacArthur ran them out with tanks and cavalry

On June 17, 1932, 43,000 marchers gathered on Capitol Hill to show their frustration with the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 which awarded them bonuses that couldn't be redeemed until 1945.

But many of these World War I veterans had been unable to find work since the start of the Great Depression and they wanted their cash-payments immediately.

In 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt denied the veterans' demands and after a second demonstration a year later, he offered them a campsite to rest and three meals a day. They were eventually promised positions in the President's newly created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

In 1936, Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Act for the immediate payment of $2 billion in bonuses despite the President's veto.

Source: HistoryNet

The 1934 Auto-Lite Strike was totally successful and solidified the idea of collective bargaining

It's regarded by many historians as one of the most important strikes in U.S. history.

In the early 1930s, the city of Toledo, Ohio looked pretty grim with one out of every three residents on relief and unemployment rates higher than 50%. For four months in 1934, workers went on strike against the auto parts manufacturer, Electric Auto-Lite.

In May, at least 10,000 protesters had joined the picket lines when the six-day 'Battle of Toledo' took place between roughly 6,000 strikers and 1,300 members of the Ohio National Guard. The workers fought back with their fists and bricks and the end left two strikers dead and 200 injured.


The Toledo Auto-Lite protest proved that bureaucracy can be fought with the support of an entire community. It's significance can still be seen today as Toledo remains one of the most unionized cities in America.

The strike also led to 5% wage increase, a minimum wage of 35 cents per hour and the creation of the Toledo Industrial Peace Board which is now known as the labour-Management-Citizens Committee.

Source: World Socialist Web Site

The 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike brought increased wages and improvements for longshoremen

In 1934, a strike in support of improved working conditions and pay was said to be 'the most devastating work stoppage in Oregon's history' lasting 82 days and leaving 50,000 Oregonians without jobs.

What started in San Pedro rapidly spread to Oakland, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco and on May 9, 1934, every West Coast port was shut down due to protests.

Source: The Oregon Encyclopedia and HistoryLink.org

The 1934 Minneapolis Teamster Strike established laws protecting workers rights

It's known to be one of the most violent strikes in Minnesota's history and was sometimes called a 'civil war' between business and labour.

Minnesota's Citizens Alliance organisation kept it a non-union city, but bad working conditions in one of the major hauling centres in the nation led to the organisation of 3,000 transportation workers into a union by the General Drivers Local 574 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

Similar to 'Occupy,' the Minneapolis Teamster Strike also published their own daily newspaper to keep the public informed of developments and plans. To show their support, 35,000 building trades workers also went on strike.

On May 25, 1934, the strike ended with a victory for the workers as their union was recognised and demands settled. The protest resulted in the death of four workers and injuries of 200.

Source: http://libcom.org and Minnesota Historical Society

The 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike made the UAW into what it is today

In 1936, Flint, Michigan was the home of General Motors who controlled 43% of the U.S. automobile industry and also politics in the city.

When workers decided to protest against long hours and insufficient pay, they got their strategy plan after watching two union baseball teams sit down on a field to protest against a non-union umpire.The workers decided to occupy factories to halt production and to make it harder for the police to break up their fight.

The strikers elected their own officials, including a 'Mayor' and had food delivered to the factories by the union. On February 11, 1937, UAW became the exclusive representative for GM's employees.

The Flint Sit-Down was a successful in shutting down GM plants during their strike period.


The Flint Sit-Down showed tremendous power in organised collective action. At the end of the strike, over 100,000 GM workers joined the UAW and within a year, increased from 30,000 to 500,000.

Source: workers.org and San Diego State University

The 1945 Servicemen's Strike showed the strength of a military protest

When the US Government sought to push servicemembers to continue fighting the Chinese following World War II, military members said no way.

In Europe and the Phillip-pines, servicemembers went on strike and demanded to be repatriated.

Source: Socialistappeal.org and libcom.org

The 1968 Black Revolutionary Union Movement proved civil rights improvements were possible

In May of 1968, black workers no longer felt the UAW met their needs and the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) was formed.

DRUM realised that the workforce was composed of over 60% of blacks, yet whites held the exclusive power. They complained that there had been no vertical movement of black workers in factories in the past 20 years.

Their concerns included:

(1) 95% of all foremen in the plants are white.
(2) 99% of all general foremen are white.
(3) 100% of all plant superintendents are white.
(4) 90% of all skilled tradesmen are white.
(5) 90% of all apprentices are white.
(6) Systematically all the easy jobs in the plants are held by whites.
(7) Whenever whites are put on harder jobs they are given helpers.
(8) Black workers who miss a day's work need two doctors' excuses.
(9) Seniority is a racist concept, since black workers systematically
were denied employment for years at this plant.

Source: libcom.org

The 1969 Serviceman Resistance to the Vietnam War protests are still being replicated today

In June of 1966, three privates refused to ship out to Vietnam and the case received national publicity. Short stays in military prisons quickly became viewed like a badge of honour.

By 1969, desertion rates for U.S. troops in Vietnam had increased four times compared to the previous year and began to rise throughout the world.


The movement acted as an inspiration for future dissatisfied servicemen like Iraq Veterans Against the War

Source: libcom.org

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