Saturday, October 24, 2009

September 1945: Big Strikes in Big Apple

One of the letters written to my Mom comments on her apparent mention, in her letter, of the big elevator operator strike of September, 1945. According to the book Working-Class New York, this was a huge strike of elevator operators, maintenance people, doormen and others, a strike that brought business in the Big Apple to a virtual halt. Time also covered the strike, quoting both NYC Mayor LaGuardia and New York Governor Tom Dewey on their successful efforts to get labor and management back to the bargaining table.

In those days, self-service elevators were practically non-existent, so having the operators go on strike meant no elevator access to offices and showrooms on high floors in tall NYC skyscrapers. On the other hand, because of mandatory wage freezes during WWII, many workers were anxious for raises, and the strikes reflected this pent-up frustration.

The Empire State Building, having been accidentally hit at the 78th floor by an airplane in July, 1945, was just getting back to normal when the strike posed new problems for commercial tenants and their visitors (not to mention mail carriers). I wonder how many office workers climbed 20 or 80 or even 90 sets of stairs to go to work every day? One story tells of a big group of stockbrokers (on the 31st floor of the Empire State Bldg) ordering sandwiches and giving the delivery person a $75 tip for walking up all those stairs!

Interestingly, my Mom's friend in the Navy writes that there are plenty of strikes in San Francisco, the big city closest to where he is stationed. He also mentions major fires in the area, the result of prolonged drought. "You will probably see pictures of the fires soon in the newsreels" he writes, since at this time the major news outlets were newspapers, radio and newsreels shown in movie theaters.

2 comments:

  1. Wanted to say thanks for sharing your mother's letters and the connecting stories. They include unique views of history as well as a peek inside the minds of those writing them. And then today, you gave me a great lead with your link to AmericanHeritage.com. What a treasure chest.

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  2. So glad you're enjoying my post about letters to Mom--I appreciate your comments too! Isn't it amazing what we can find online to understand the context of what was happening in our family's past?

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