Way We Were: The Park City miners’ strike of 1919
Park City Museum
On May 4, 1919 approximately one thousand Park City miners joined forces with organized labor to embark upon a six-week strike, demanding better pay and working conditions. Previous efforts to strike had been tamped down by war, a declining metals market and rising operating costs.
However, a wage reduction had been imposed in March of 1919 and dissatisfaction was running high among laborers in the mines. Therefore, when representatives of the International Workers of the World (IWW) arrived in Park City to organize mining labor, the local workers were ready to stand up to the mine owners.
The IWW, whose members are commonly known as “Wobblies,” was rapidly gaining popularity among American workers in the post-WWI era. The IWW was inspired by the success of the Bolshevists in Russia and advanced the theory of syndicalism, which promotes the use of strikes and force to overthrow capitalism and control production.
Concurrently, there was a backlash against socialism underway in America, and most of Utah’s labor unions found themselves at odds with the IWW. Business owners in Utah and across the nation sought the support of government to stand up to the radical undercurrents they saw penetrating the labor market. In Utah, the state legislature passed a pair of anti-syndicalism laws in 1919 (the Sabotage Act was specifically aimed at undercutting the IWW), but the laws were largely unenforced.
In Park City, the wheels were already in motion for the strike. Local representatives from the IWW called themselves the Strike Committee; on behalf of the miners, they laid out straightforward demands including a six-hour workday with daily compensation restored to the former wage of $5.50. In addition, the Strike Committee sought improvements to camp conditions and demanded no discrimination against workers who sought to organize.
During the first several weeks of the strike, little progress was made toward resolving the miners’ issues, with both sides standing firm. The IWW implored strikers to hold out until their demands were fully met, but mine owners remained silent. Gradually, as the weeks wore on and bills came due, the IWW’s influence began to wane. In mid-June a small group of conservative miners calling themselves the Committee of Workingmen Advised to Stay Away invited local miners to discuss an alternate approach to resolving the strike.
A meeting was held at the American Theatre (where the Spur Bar & Grill is now) on the evening of June 17 during which miners were advised by the committee that the only reasonable way to end the strike was to return to work. Miners voted by secret ballot in favor of returning to work and did so with none of their demands met by mine owners. On June 27, The Park Record reported: “And so the strike planned and directed by outside influence, resulting in only loss of time and loss of salary for those who participated, was formally declared off and a sigh of relief and satisfaction was given by all that common sense again prevailed ….”
The Park City miners’ strike of 1919 was the only major strike led by the IWW in the state of Utah. When IWW representatives returned to Park City the following year, they were forced out of town.
The Park City Museum is closed until further notice under State Health Department guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic so explore more Park City history on our website parkcityhistory.org.
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