August 15, 1919

Boston Police Vote to Unionize, Precipitating Riots

Region:
Greater Boston

On this day in 1919, Boston policemen seeking better wages and working conditions voted to form a union. The Commissioner of Police forbade them to unionize. Tensions escalated until, three weeks later, 19 officers were suspended for their union activities. Three quarters of the oldest police department in the country went on strike. Within hours, street gangs had taken over the downtown. For two days, vandals, looters, and perpetrators of violence ruled the streets. Order was restored only with the arrival of 4,700 bayonet-carrying soldiers. In Boston and around the country, the striking police were blamed for allowing the riots to occur. President Woodrow Wilson denounced the strike as "a crime against civilization."

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